Homeowner found guilty of killing unarmed teenagers
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — A home-owner who shot and killed two unarmed teenagers during a break-in was quickly convicted of premeditated murder on Tuesday, with a jury taking about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense.
Byron Smith, a 65-year-old retiree who once set up security in American embassies for the State Department, shot Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.
Smith's attorney said he was fearful after previous burglaries. But prosecutors argued Smith laid in wait in his basement and intended to kill the teens, with a setup so elaborate that lead prosecutor Pete Orput compared it to a deer stand. Their key evidence was an audio recording that captured the killings in chilling detail, including Smith's taunts as the teens died.
The mothers of the teens, who were cousins, cried as the verdicts were read: Guilty on two counts each of first-degree and second-degree murder. Smith, who showed no emotion as he heard the verdicts, was immediately sentenced to life without parole. Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher said he would appeal.
Brady's grandmother, Bonnie Schaeffel, was among family members who addressed the court after the verdicts.
She said Smith seemed like a “sour, angry old recluse who felt he was above the law.” She added she was sorry his house was burglarized, but said Kifer and Brady should have had the chance to grow up and learn from their mistake.
The teens' killings stirred debate around the state and in Little Falls — a Mississippi River city of 8,000 about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis — about how far a homeowner can go in responding to a threat. Minnesota law allows deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home or dwelling, but one's actions must be considered reasonable under the circumstances.
Prosecutors said Smith's plan was set in motion on the morning of the killings, after Smith saw a neighbor whom he believed responsible for prior burglaries. Prosecutors say Smith moved his truck to make it look like no one was home, and then settled into a basement chair with a book, energy bars, a bottle of water and two guns.
Smith set up a hand-held recorder on a bookshelf, which captured audio of the shootings, and had installed a surveillance system that recorded images of Brady trying to enter the house.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Weight loss differs between the sexes
- Lighthouse sale draws $78K bid off cost of Portland, Maine
- Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission
- Florida looks good: Farmer’s Almanac predicts ‘super-cold’ winter, above-average snow for Northeast
- Mortgage deal isn’t likely to cost $17B
- Contraception, abstinence push U.S. teen birthrates to historic lows
- Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile destroyed, U.S. declares
- Health care data breaches hit 30M patients and counting
- ISIS beheads American photojournalist who was kidnapped 2 years ago in Syria
- Beheading doesn’t deter U.S., who launches new airstrikes