Trial of Little Falls homeowner who shot 2 teens begins Monday - New York News

Trial of Little Falls homeowner who shot 2 teens begins Monday

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Byron Smith Byron Smith
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (KMSP) -

The murder trial of Byron Smith, the man who admitted to shooting two teenaged cousins in Little Falls, will begin on Monday and could serve as a test of how far a person can legally go to protect his or her home from intruders.

Smith admitted to police that he shot 17-year-old Nick Brady on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 after the teen entered his home, but he then dragged the boy's bloody body into a workshop in his basement, spent 18 seconds wrapping the corpse in a tarp, and then sat down to wait.

Minutes later, Byron shot and killed 18-year-old Hallie Kifer as she came down the stairs, telling police he fired "a good, clean finishing shot" into her head as she gasped for air, charging documents state.

The 65-year-old homeowner also left the bodies of the two teens in his basement overnight before asking a neighbor to call the police, according to the criminal complaint.

Smith faces two counts of premeditated, first-degree murder following a grand jury indictment Morrison County in April.

JURY SELECTION COULD TAKE A WEEK

Jurors still have yet to be selected, and both the prosecutor and defense attorney tell Fox 9 News they expect the process will be a lengthy one.

Jury selection will begin Monday morning at the Morrison County Courthouse in Little Falls, Minn., and it could take up a full week before opening arguments are made.

Prospective jurors will likely fill out a questionnaire on Monday, and more than 100 potential jurors will be considered.

WILL A SELF DEFENSE ARGUMENT HOLD UP?

It remains to be seen whether jurors will be sympathetic to Smith, who has claimed he was defending himself even though neither intruder was armed.

The case has rocked the small city of about 8,000 residents and has stirred debate over the limits of self defense. Even officers investigating the case remarked that the killings resembled executions, and the assistant county attorney said Smith can be heard taunting the dying teens in recordings he made. Those recordings will be entered into evidence.

"The law doesn't permit you to execute someone once the threat is gone," said Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel. "When it becomes clear there's no threat to you, and a felony can't be committed in your home, you no longer have the right to shoot someone."

Minnesota law does allow a homeowner to use deadly force on an intruder if it is "necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode." Smith maintains he feared the two could have had a weapon.

SMITH TELLS POLICE: 'I WANT HIM DEAD'

Smith admitted to police that he was in his basement when he heard a window break upstairs and then heard footsteps, but he did not try to alert them of his presence. Instead, he said he shot Brady as he came down the basement stairwell and then shot the boy in the face as he looked up at him from the basement floor.

The criminal complaint states that Smith told an investigator, "I want him dead," and admitted that he fired "more shots than I needed to."

After killing Brady, Smith sat down in a chair and waited. Once Kifer began coming down the stairs, he shot her too. He tried to shoot her again after she fell down the stairs, but said his gun jammed. The criminal complaint states that Kifer then laughed, and Smith then shot her several times in the chest before dragging her into the room where Brady's body was.

Smith told police that Kifer was still gasping for air, so he fired what he called a "good, clean finishing shot" under her chin "up into the cranium."

Smith is a retired security engineer for the U.S. Department of State. His job would have focused on technical security issues for U.S. embassies, such as building layout and alarms. Neighbors described Smith as "gun happy" to Fox 9 News, and police confirmed they confiscated several firearms at the time of his arrest.

A COMMUNITY DIVIDED

Although many residents agree that the teens were wrong to enter Smith's home, many still contend that Smith went too far -- and it seems likely that the trial will revive the emotional debate that garnered national attention in 2012.

The funeral for the teens drew more than 400 attendees, and despite the circumstances of their death, a fund was set up to help the family with the costs of laying the two to rest.

Both Kifer and Brady were well-known in the community. Both were involved in sports, and Kifer worked several part-time jobs, according to online obituaries; however, a different picture of the two emerged after their deaths and police began linking recent break-ins to the duo.

The Morrison County Sheriff's Office fielded several calls after the shooting, and the sheriff confirmed some were critical that Smith was being charged.

"There will always be those people that think that he did nothing wrong, regardless of the facts," Wetzel told the AP last week. "But once all the facts are known, I think the number of people who think he did nothing wrong is going to be reduced dramatically."

Another victim of a home intrusion robbery in Little Falls admitted that although he believes Smith "way overreacted" told Fox 9 News "if they hadn't broken into the house, they'd be alive today."

Both Brady and Kifer were linked to that previous robbery south of Little Falls after their deaths. Smith himself had suffered a home-invasion robbery in October and had lost thousands of dollars in cash, coins, and camera equipment.

EVIDENCE TO INCLUDE VIDEO, AUDIO RECORDINGS

Jurors will have some graphic material to sift through during the trial, including video surveillance of Brady and Kifer entering Smith's home as well as audio recordings of their deaths.

According to prosecutors, the audio tape proves that four shots were fired at Brady. Ten minutes later, Kifer can be heard calling for him before more shots were fired, prosecutors say.

Assistant Morrison County Attorney Todd Kosovich called the killings an "ambush," saying Smith even removed light bulbs from sockets and sat by a tall bookcase so the teens could not see him as they entered the basement.

Prosecutors also claim Smith can be heard taunting Kifer before her death, saying "You're dying."

SMITH REMAINS OUT ON BAIL

Smith has been a free man since he posted $50,000 conditional bail in mid-December.

Originally, Smith's bail was set at $2 million, but his attorney, Steve Meshbesher, argued that it was too extreme. A Morrison County judge apparently agreed, bringing it down to $500,000 bond or $50,000 cash.

Smith did surrender his passport as a condition of his release, and has no criminal record.

Meshbesher told Fox 9 News he and his client have not yet decided whether Smith will take the stand in his own defense, saying only that Smith "did not do anything criminal."

"It's a tragedy. It is sad what happened, but it doesn't make it a crime," Meshbesher said. "It is not a crime to shoot someone in your home who you fear is about to attack."

Meshbesher told the Associated Press he believes the evidence will prove his client is innocent, saying Smith's home had been broken into a half-dozen times in the months before the shootings, leading him to install a security system for protection. Court documents from another case indicate Brady had burglarized Smiths' property twice in the months before his death.

Meanwhile, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has been called in to be the lead prosecutor, and he said he is looking forward to letting jurors decide whether Smith's actions were premeditated.

If convicted, Smith will face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release.


Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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