Detective Testifies to Discrepancies in Initial Statements from Markus Kaarma
Detective Richard Dean Chrestenson, who led interviews with Markus Kaarma, Janelle Pflager, and Robby Pazmino (the teen who was with Diren Dede), testified today about discrepancies in Kaarma's initial statement that led to him being charged with Dede's murder. Kaarma had claimed self defense. Debate over whether or not Dede had a light source in the garage also took center stage.
Chrestenson has been with the Missoula Police Department for almost twenty-two years. He was called to the Kaarma home shortly after the shooting took place. According to Chrestenson it was obvious from the get-go that there had been four shots into the east wall of the garage. Chrestenson described a large amount of blood on the floor and shotgun shells both inside and outside the garage (seen in Detective Lang's video tour of the crime scene). Describing the shot pattern, Chrestenson said that three of the shots were uniform in terms of height and distance from the shooter. The fourth shot was higher and left less pellet fragments in the wall. Asked about the location of the fourth shot, he described it as directly behind the large bloodstain where Dede had fallen. Chrestenson added that the shots appeared to him to be methodically placed.
The Kaarma's baby was asleep, so Chrestenson agreed to interview Janelle Pflager in the home instead of taking her to the station. Chrestenson described Pflager as calm, gathered, and not upset during their interview--a demeanor which he admits struck him as odd (Chrestenson compared this to Robby Pazmino, whom he says was visibly upset during their interview). Pflager told him that she heard Kaarma yell something to the effect of "hey, hey," and Dede yell something to the effect of "wait, stop." In Pflager's testimony last week, she denied that she heard anything.
According to Chrestenson, he began to realize that he was investigating a homicide instead of self defense when he sat in on Detective Baker's questioning of Markus Kaarma. Asked what raised red flags to him, Chrestenson replied that Kaarma's statement about what had happened did not match what he had heard from Pflager and Pazmino. Specifically, he cited that Kaarma claimed it was pitch dark, but Pflager had claimed Dede was holding a light source in photos and that she had turned a light on outside the garage; Kaarma claimed to have made four shots in quick succession, but Pflager and Pazmino both said they heard a pause before the final shot; and Kaarma had claimed that there was no communication from either him or Dede, while Pflager and Pazmino had both asserted to yelling from both Kaarma and Dede before shots were fired. Pflager later retracted all of those claims and testified as such last week (her account of events now matches Kaarma's). He also said that Kaarma's claim that he had heard a "metal on metal" noise didn't seem to fit in the timeline from other statements. According to Kaarma, when he heard the metal sound he thought the person in his garage was going to "throw an axe at him" or something. Chrestenson further testified that no forms of weapon or metal objects (such as a wrench) were found in the vicinity of the bloodstain where Dede had fallen.
Robby Pazmino had described garage hopping to him and identified it as an activity many students at Big Sky High School participated in, mostly to find alcohol. Chrestenson located three boys from Big Sky, who verified Pazmino's account of garage hopping. The boys further verified that although Pazmino had been present at times when garage hopping occurred, he never entered a garage himself. The boys also claimed that they never forced entry, they would drive around looking for open garage doors. None of the boys described using their cell phones as walkie talkies to organize their activities, as the defense has alleged. Chrestenson intended to find more students to interview, but stopped when staff members from the high school cautioned students and parents not to talk to police about it.
During cross examination, defense asserted that Chrestenson has not kept up to date on National Standards for evidence collection, and took particular issue with the fact that Pazmino's cell phone was returned to him before he left Missoula for his home country on about May 5, 2014. Chrestenson stated that several detectives had discussed the issue and decided that the phone did not have enough value as evidence to withhold it. Defense pressed Chrestenson that running from the scene of a crime can be taken as evidence of guilt, meriting probable cause--particularly since Pazmino changed clothes after returning to the home of Randy Smith, Dede's host in the U.S. Chrestenson replied that he believed Pazmino's claim that he had run because he feared for his life. He also says he believed Pazmino's claim that he changed his clothes because he didn't want Smith to find out he had been smoking. Defense further disputed that in Pazmino's initial statement he described the shots without a pause. After consulting the transcript of Pazmino's statement Chrestenson agreed, but added that Pazmino had described a pause in a subsequent interview. Defense alleged that Chrestenson implied that there was a pause in his interview with Pazmino, leading Pazmino to change his statement to agree. Chrestenson disagreed with that assessment.
Defense then had a stormy debate with Chrestenson about whether or not Diren Dede had a light source in his hand in the garage. Chrestenson was initially told by Janelle Pflager that there had been a light in Dede's left hand in photos she took from the baby monitor in the garage (again, Pflager now denies this). Looking at the photo, Chrestenson maintains that there appears to be a lighted object in Dede's hand. Defense pointed to lighted objects behind Dede in the garage, which Chrestenson identified as reflectors from a bike hanging there. Defense asked if the reflectors would have been illuminated, even though they appear to be in the night vision image. Chrestenson agreed, but pointed out that he doubts the object in Dede's hand was a bike reflector.
In conclusion, defense asked Chrestenson if there were items like box cutters, chains, shovels, or a saw in the garage--which could potentially have been used as a weapon by anyone inside. Chrestenson agreed that those items were in the Kaarma garage, but again pointed out that no objects like it were found around where Dede had fallen.