Detective Mitch Lang Takes Jurors on a Video Tour of the Crime Scene at the Kaarma Home
Detective Mitch Lang took the stand in the Markus Kaarma trial today to take jurors through a video walk-through he filmed as well as crime scene photographs.
One of Lang's specialties is determining patterns in criminal activity. He does not recall any pattern of crimes in the Prospect area of Grant Creek leading up to the shooting. Lang was called to the scene where Diren Dede was fatally shot at 2 a.m. on April 27, 2014. Upon arrival, he did an initial canvas of the area and does not recall seeing any neighbors or suspicious activity. Kaarma had already been taken from the scene at that time, but Lang did interact with Kaarma's common-law wife Janelle Pflager during his search of the Kaarma home. Asked to describe Pflager's state of mind, Lang said that she appeared "fine" and was perfectly normal--even making small talk with him about how they are both from Minnesota.
State Attorney Jennifer Clark had Detective Lang walk jurors through video he took of the crime scene. Footage began in the driveway, where a bloody article of Dede's clothing and a blood trail had fallen when medical personnel rushed him away from the scene, prompting Dede's mother to leave the courtroom in tears. Moving closer to the garage, three shotgun shells could be seen on the ground at the entrance to the garage. The fourth shell was inside the garage, underneath the car parked inside. There was a large bloodstain on the ground where Dede had lain, with medical equipment strewn around. Dede's wallet, which Janelle Pflager removed, was on an orange folding chair beside that and his white iPhone was on a folding table. Janelle Pflager's black purse, which was allegedly planted to bait potential burglars, was set on a freezer just behind where the body had lain. Inside Pflager's purse were old prescription bottles and a vehicle registration--items that could be tied back to the Kaarmas if stolen.
There was a grouping of shot holes in the wall behind that, with two more shot groupings to the right by the interior door leading into the Kaarma home. A small handheld flashlight could be seen on the shelves beside the door. It was possible to see into the Kaarma house through the bulletholes in the door. Shotgun pellets were found inside the kitchen, where they had broken a container of oil in the pantry, and across the wall on the other side of the garage.
After the video was taken, Lang took photographs with more details of the crime scene as described above. They reveal that the black purse was moved to a spot beside the interior door, but Lang asserts this happened after the preliminary investigation was complete. Photographs also reveal that there was a live round inserted into the shotgun before it was placed on the floor inside the house, implying that Kaarma had loaded another round into the weapon.
There were two flashlights lying face-down on a side table in the entryway to the Kaarma home. Kaarma and Pflager now assert that it was pitch dark inside the garage, although Pflager's initial testimony implied otherwise.
Upon initial review of the evidence observed, Lang became concerned that evidence wasn't matching the story of self defense--enough that he returned to collect more evidence, including sections of sheet rock. It is at this point that Lang says Pflager's purse was moved. One thing that confused Lang was the placement of the shot groupings and how they managed to miss all of the objects in the front and middle of the garage, especially Pflager's car and the sport rack on top of it, which would potentially be in the way to anyone firing from the entrance of the garage. Lang added that they had not analyzed bullet trajectory before removing the sheet rock because the amount of space where the shooter could have stood was very limited.
During the defense team's cross-examination of Detective Lang, they asked him to clarify that his role at the crime scene was to assist in evidence collection, not to lead. Defense asked Lang about his investigation of another murder case in which self defense was claimed. In that instance, Lang said that he listened to statements about what had happened and looked to evidence to corroborate. Defense asserts that Lang did not follow that procedure with Markus Kaarma, who was charged with murder seven hours after the crime, before Lang had read his statement about what had happened that night.