04 May 2014

Castle Defense

by Leigh Lundin

As April ended, two remarkably similar homicide cases created headlines, one ending, the other just beginning. In both situations, men trapped and executed clean-cut teens who’d entered their property. In both cases, the perpetrators claimed they were trapping burglars and doing the job of police.

Except it’s not the duty of police to execute trespassers or even burglars.

Here is where opinions split: Property and guns-rights advocates believe their position trumps human rights including the right to life. The counter view is that human life is far more precious than mere things. Mixed into this madness is Florida’s insane Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law that’s metastasized to other states.

To speak out against the SF/SYG law is to invite challenges that one is anti-gun (and by extension, anti-American). I’m not, in fact, I’m an owner. My father was an incredible marksman and my mother put food on the table with her own carbine. To rural families, rifles were tools, not toys. Happiness wasn’t a warm gun and that’s where I step apart from those who lovingly stroke their weapons. Something’s terribly wrong in our culture.

Lines of Fire

One example: A former employee of mine– a likable guy if he wasn’t such a bonehead– got into a mess with the wives of a couple of his neighbors. (Yep, I said he was a bonehead!) One of the husbands threatened to send around a recently out-of-prison convict who liked to hurt people.

When I suggested he beef up his home security, bonehead said, “Why? I don’t lock my doors, I’m waiting for them. Laid out my trip wires, planned my field of fire, I can cover most of the house from one hallway.”

My jaw didn’t drop, but it wanted to. He absolutely believed that protected by Florida’s laws, if anyone stepped foot on his property, he had a right to kill them. No DA would prosecute him, no court would convict him.

(And indeed, we’ve seen teens shot for taking shortcuts across lawns and a lost man killed for simply knocking on a door for directions. “Fear for one’s life,” that’s the pass-phrase of the SF/SYG law.)

So in a house with three children and usually one or two women (girlfriends, other men’s wives), he could have taken a dozen precautions to avoid conflict, but instead, he preferred to lie in wait, armed and thirsty for blood, convinced it wouldn’t be his.

The sheriff’s department may have had a quiet word with one or more parties, but the drama died down. One of the wives returned to her husband and baby, and the other wife went on to advance her career in stripping and finding a new sugar daddy.

But what if one of those men had knocked on the door one evening? What if anyone, any kid, walked in, tripping the invisible fishing lines? Another death and the resident saying, “Yep, I feared for my life.”

Kifer and Brady
Haile Kifer and Nick Brady
Turkey Shoot I

That brings us to the Minnesota case. Thanksgiving Day, 2012. A man’s home had been burgled. For reasons that aren’t clear, he believed it would happen again. His extensive preparations included setting up a recording system and preparing a hidey-hole (a so-called ‘deer blind’) stocked with a novel, an easy chair, a hunting rifle, a handgun, food and water… and a tarp. Eschewing dinner with friends and family, he made the home appear unoccupied and retreated to his ‘deer blind’.

And then he waited. He waited until 17-year-old Nick Brady descended the cellar steps and, like a hunter, he wounded him, mocked the downed boy, then executed him and wrapped him in the tarp.

And then he waited. He waited until 18-year-old Haile Kifer descended the steps whispering “Nick?” He fired again and his automatic jammed. He cleared it as the girl cried, “Oh, my God,” and shot her, taunting her before and after administering a coup de grâce.

A man who’d seen too many Dirty Harry movies, he recorded a chilling justification, calling the teens vermin. The tape that was supposed to be his saving grace in court, became his undoing. Sympathy for a man with a burgled property became horror toward a man without feeling, without regard for the young lives he’d taken. It’s impossible to say what the verdict might have been without the recording, but the jury took only three hours to sentence Byron Smith to life in prison.

Diren Dede
Diren Dede
Turkey Shoot II

On the night of 27 April, two Montana homeowners 300 miles apart shot teens in their attached garages. One was a house guest and seminary student who stepped into the garage to make a phone call without disturbing the rest of the family. The owner of the house, not bothering to identify his target, brought the boy down with a blast to the chest.

To the west in Missoula, a security specialist and his girlfriend turned his garage into a lethal trap for presumed teen burglars. They activated surveillance equipment and then sat up and waited.

Janelle Pflager had baited the trap with her purse sitting out, left the garage door ¾ open, and switched on a monitor. When a motion sensor tripped, Markus Hendrik Kaarma grabbed his shotgun and headed outside to confront the intruder.

Kaarma shotgunned 17-year-old Diren Dede, a high school junior, talented athlete, and foreign exchange student. It’s not clear why Dede entered the garage. I’ve been known to close my neighbors’ doors, but we don’t know.

But follow this: Kaarma announced in advance he wanted to "shoot some ƒ-ing kid." Although he said he didn’t want the boy to get away, that he wanted him caught and that the police can’t catch burglars in the act, he invoked the magic words of the SF/SYG law: He said he feared for his life and thought he was going to die.

See, Montana aped the Florida Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, supplanting wording of the ancient Castle Doctrine. Indeed, Kaarma’s attorney announced he’d use those very provisions to defend his client.

As pro-gun lobbyist Gary Marbut explains, the SF/SYG “revisions allow a structure’s resident to be presumed innocent when using lethal force to defend his or her property.” So innocent, in fact, that in the early months of Florida’s law, 100 shooters who would have otherwise been prosecuted and possibly imprisoned were not arrested, not prosecuted, not convicted, or had charges dismissed due to Shoot First / Stand Your Ground.

Castle Keep

Montana State Representative Ellie Hill, a Second Amendment supporter, doesn’t oppose the historic version of the castle doctrine, but she takes issue with the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground provisions added in 2009.

“What the [new law] has done in this country is it has created a culture of gun violence and vigilante justice,” Hill said, “and it’s created a culture that it’s OK to shoot first and ask questions later… What’s missing from the law is common sense.”

And that’s the problem. What are your views?


  1. Well said. Very well said.

  2. Good post.
    I'm longing to see our supposed commitment to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not to mention the right to peacefully assemble placed as highly as the sacred 2nd amendment.

  3. Anon, thank you very much. I strive to get the point across without sinking into the political squabbles. That acquaintance left me dumbfounded, opting for a battle when none was necessary.

    Thanks, Janice and good point. There's often a human tendency to focus on obsessions (on both sides) and let other important issues slide.

  4. Leigh, like you said, guns are tools, not toys. It's unfortunate that guns make some people feel big.
    I understand that people get frustrated with criminals getting away with their crimes, often not even being identified, the lack of police response, etc., but to bait and execute a human being should be a crime in itself. There needs to be a middle ground in this madness. True self-protection is one thing, outright murder is another animal altogether.

  5. I agree with State Representative Hill. What is missing is common sense. Here in Tennessee, a bill to allow guns in local parks and schools was again defeated. I fear that one day, it’ll pass.

    Now some lawmakers want to allow open carry. Though I don’t have all the information on the bill, it would allow holders of concealed gun permits to wear their guns in plain sight.

    As long as the law protects people who kill and use the stand your ground laws to justify their actions, the NRA will continue to rule the gun culture.

    My uncle was a gun collector and kept the guns in a locked cabinet in his room. I’m not against gun ownership but I see no reason why we can’t have stronger gun control laws. I guess the 2nd Amendment is absolute, at least in the eyes of the NRA.

  6. RT, you hit the nail on the head. Some guys feel artificially empowered by guns, and to me, those are the people who shouldn't have them and yet the same guys who yell the loudest about their right to carry them.

    Louis, years ago when Massachusetts legalized open carry, I worked for a guy who wore his piece in a belt holster to work… in an office environment. I'm sure he wanted to impress the girls, but I have doubts that worked.

    Florida, in its infinite insanity, once considered forcing employers to allow employees to wear guns on the job. Disney helped put that bit of madness to bed. Can you imagine Magic Kingdom cast members wearing guns on the job?

  7. Good article, Leigh. Setting a trap and waiting to kill someone sounds like premeditated murder. Lawmakers need to realize that they can’t legislate everything. A law that was perhaps passed with good intentions usually has a loophole somewhere to aid people in abusing that law. I can see being ticked off that your house was broken into, when I was in my twenties my house was broken into and belongings tossed or stolen. Talk about feeling violated! I didn’t have a gun at the time, but I sure didn’t go buy one and sit around setting traps for anyone. I do have to live with myself. I’m not against owning guns at all and know how to shoot them, but anytime you own something lethal like that you have to keep your wits about you and not go off half-cocked. (No pun intended)

  8. A Broad Abroad04 May, 2014 14:13

    Horrendous subject matter (shudder) but excellent column.

    Apprehending the teens after purposefully luring and wounding them would have been bad enough. But shooting multiple times with intention to kill, then imagining the recording would exonerate him, beggars belief.

    As for common sense – sadly, it’s not very common.

  9. Vicki, police and prosecutors opposed Florida's SF/SYG law, but the legislature rammed it through anyway. I don't know how many unpunished deaths are attributed to the SF/SYG law that Florida foisted upon the nation, but the numbers are staggering.

    ABA, common sense seems to be an oxymoron in this case. It's bad enough adults kill themselves, but killing children, even ones up to no good, is a terrible crime.

  10. Good article, Leigh. Here in the weird state ox TX, they are allowing open carry. A group called Mom Demand Action for Gun Sense have been intimidated by A gang of gun nuts. Standing outside a restaurant where some Moms were having lunch. And the other day at Taco Bell (I believe it was) a group of men walking around the parking lot with rifles and long guns frightened employees. Employees hid in food freezer and called police. The world is getting way too scary out there.

  11. Good piece. I recommend you read Lawrence Block's story "A Blow For Freedom," in his book Some Days You Get The Bear, and his collected stories. I think he nailed the subject.

  12. The whole SYG crap has led to the presumption that the victim was always guilty. Period. And it has led to a lot of idiots thinking that having a gun is necessary and wearing a gun proves what a hunk of manhood they are. We had some open-carry guys down in Sioux Falls a while back that said in the paper, "We're just trying to show everybody what our rights are." Because, of course, only they have rights. And that right there is the theory behind a lot of SYG/SA etc. stuff - to these bozos, their rights trump your right to live, your child's right to live, anybody's right to live. A very scary place to be.

  13. Clever title, Anon.

    Here's a news story update: 70 years for Kaarma.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>