A Minnesota man is on trial for what is being portrayed as an execution style murder of two teenagers that broke into his home.  Byron Smith, 65, of Little Falls, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the slayings of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.  The killings rocked the small central Minnesota city of about 8,000 and stirred debate about how far a person can go in defending their home.

Smith has claimed self-defense, saying he feared the teens were armed and he was on edge after earlier repeated break-ins at his home.  Under Minnesota law, a person may use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one’s home or dwelling, but authorities have said Smith crossed a line when he continued to shoot the teens after they were no longer a threat.

Prosecutors played for jurors Smith’s taped interview with police after the shootings.  In it, Smith told police he was living in fear after the break-ins and had taken to wearing a gun on his hip.  But he also said: “Whoever it was who was breaking into my home had been doing it so long that I was no longer willing to live in fear.”

Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher told jurors that the trial “is not a case of whodunit. Mr. Smith is the person who shot and killed those two people, but he is not criminally responsible for the deaths.  He is not guilty of murder.”

Meshbesher also said his client was hiding after break-ins that had gotten increasingly more violent.

“He became frightened and scared to live in his own home,” he said of Smith, later adding, “He began to wear a holster and pistol in his own house.  That is how afraid he is, and became.”

Assistant Washington County Attorney Brent Wartner told jurors that Smith thought a neighbor girl had been breaking into his home, so on that Thanksgiving Day, Smith sat in his basement, waiting.  “He’s down in the basement, in a chair, tucked between two bookcases at the bottom of the stairs.  He said he was down there reading a book … with his Mini-14, a .22-caliber revolver, some energy bars and a bottle of water”.  Smith heard the door of his house rattle at about 12:30 p.m., then someone walking across the deck, then a window breaking.

Prosecutors say as Brady descended the basement steps, Smith shot him in the chest, then in the back while Brady fell, Wartner said.  Smith fired a final shot into Brady’s head, the bullet passing through Brady’s hand.  Smith put Brady’s body on a tarp so he wouldn’t get blood on his carpet, dragged it into his workshop, reloaded his rifle and sat down again.

A few minutes later, Kifer walked down the stairs and Smith shot her.  His rifle jammed when he tried a second shot, and Smith told police he believed Kifer laughed at him.

“He was angry,” Wartner said, then describing that Smith pulled out his revolver and shot her twice in the head, once in the left eye and once behind the left ear.

Smith dragged Kifer’s body into the workshop and laid it on top of Brady’s, Wartner said. Smith told investigators he thought he heard Kifer gasping, so he placed his revolver under her chin and fired what he told police was a “good clean finishing shot to the head,” the assistant prosecutor said.

Smith is a retired security engineer for the U.S. Department of State.  Kifer and Brady were cousins.  The two were well-known in the community, and both were involved in sports.

After their deaths, authorities said a car linked to Brady and Kifer contained prescription drugs that had been stolen from another house, apparently the day before they were killed.  Court documents from another case show Brady had burglarized Smith’s property at least twice in the months before he was killed.

What is going to send Mr. Smith to prison is the point-blank shots to the heads of the teenagers, his admissions to the police that those shots were meant to kill the teenagers, and the fact that he waited a day to notify the authorities because he did not want to “spoil” anybody else’s Thanksgiving.

The prosecutors are trying to “paint” these two kids as innocent victims, when in fact, they were thieves willing to break into this man’s house to steal and do whatever.  Presumably, to steal drugs.  Mr. Smith is the true victim, but he went overboard and plus, he truthfully admitted to what he did.  I firmly believe that this was a misunderstanding by Mr. Smith about what he could do to keep his house and himself safe from harm.  I also feel that he was tired of being constantly victimized and his fear was legitimate in his mind.  Also, Mr. Smith shot Brady at least three times and yet Kifer also came down the basement stairs a few minutes later.  What, she did not hear the shots or just maybe she thought that maybe Brady had a gun and had shot someone else?  So, hearing the shots did not deter her from continuing her search of the house.

Mr. Smith obviously over reacted in the situation, but put yourself in his shoes.  If you have ever listened to the frantic calls from victims to 911 while a perp is attempting to break into their home.  You start to understand the level of fear and dread that these people experience.  So, should Mr. Smith not have armed himself?  Remember, he had had other firearms stolen from his home in prior break-ins and he told police that he was worried that these perps might be armed.  Do you then wait to see a weapon first or do you shoot first and ask questions later?  I guess that we will have to see how this trial turns out, but Mr. Smith is being viewed by many, as being an uncaring monster and not just a frightened old man.

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