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Minnesota man convicted of premeditated murder

Man Found Guilty Of Murder For Shooting Teen Burglars

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota homeowner who shot and killed two unarmed teenagers during a break-in was quickly convicted of premeditated murder 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 U.S. 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 waited 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.

Kifer's aunt, Laurie Skipper, read a statement from her niece's parents: "Byron Smith made a conscious choice to shoot and kill our beautiful daughter Haile. ... The feelings of helplessness are overwhelming."

Smith's brother, Bruce, walked past reporters afterward without comment.

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 also 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.

The audio, which was played several times in court, captured the sound of glass shattering, Brady descending the basement stairs and Smith shooting Brady three times. Smith can be heard saying, "You're dead." Prosecutors said Smith put Brady's body on a tarp and dragged him into another room, then sat down, reloaded his weapon and waited.

About 10 minutes later, Kifer came downstairs. More shots are heard on the recording as Kifer screams. Smith says, "You're dying," followed soon by the sound of another gunshot, which investigators said Smith described as "a good, clean finishing shot."

Later on the recording, Smith refers to the teens as "vermin." Smith waited a full day before asking a neighbor to call police.

Smith did not testify. Meshbesher highlighted previous burglaries on Smith's property, including one on Oct. 27 that included the theft of weapons. He said Smith was fearful, and had asked authorities to do a more thorough investigation.

During closing arguments, Meshbesher said his client was a victim, and the teens would still be alive if they hadn't broken into Smith's house.

But Orput said Tuesday that Smith intended to kill, making a choice every time he pulled the trigger.

"We know what fear feels like," Orput said. "Was it fear that drove this or was it something else?"

Kifer was a senior who was active in athletics at Little Falls High School. Brady was a junior and had wrestled at Little Falls High School before transferring to nearby Pillager High School.

Judge Douglas Anderson excluded evidence about the teens' histories from the trial, including court documents that showed Brady had broken into Smith's house and garage before. Brady and Kifer were also linked to another burglary; stolen prescription drugs were found in the car they were driving.

Meshbesher said the jury did not see all the evidence - an issue he will raise on appeal.

Orput said after the verdicts that this wasn't a case about self-protection, but rather a "senseless, sad, premeditated murder of two kids."

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PATRICIA April 30 2014 at 5:40 PM

Texas The Lone Star State, we need nothing from anyone/ nor any state. We all have fire arms, for the majority of us do. We have the right to drop you dead in our home upon your stupid ass breaking in,, right to kill your ass if we see yiou running accross our yard with our property. As Long as you were on that land the owner owns. you go there with the intent to commit a crime, theif, rape, bugalar, You are at the MERCY Of the person whose hard work paid for descetition !! and I can tell you WE ARE NOT TO GIVE OUR RIGHTS UP !!!!

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Hi April 30 2014 at 11:27 AM

Those two should have been in school or working instead of breaking into a old man's home. If the parents knew they were trouble, or on drugs they should have been focusing on that and not letting them out of their sight. They needed help!. They alone put themselves in harm's way. As for the old man, he should get a fair trail the jury needed to hear everything.

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1 reply
hazrdus389 Hi April 30 2014 at 11:38 AM

Usually punks like this were taught to be this way by bad parenting. I think they owe the old man an apology for raising idiots.

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Benjamin Paul!!! April 30 2014 at 5:31 PM

these kids were punks. they got what they deserved. smith is the only real victim here. people need to stop being such bleeding hearts for everyone who dies young. sometimes, it's a consequence to their own stupid, illegal actions. they wanna play like adults, they're gonna get the consequences of one.

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Gena April 30 2014 at 11:27 AM

They broke into the man's house. Anytime someone breaks a window to gain entry into a someone else's home they are up to no good. He probably worked hard all of his life and what he owned was his. It was bought with his own hard earned money. This should never be considered a crime because the man sat inside his own basement. Cops set up sting operations every day to bust criminals. The only thing he is guilty of is not calling the police right away. Now this poor elderly man is sentenced to prison for protecting his home and what belonged to him. It's a little late for the grieving parents of these two dead young adults where were they when they were supposed to be teaching them about morals and values?

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flysalot2 April 30 2014 at 11:27 AM

Break into someone's home and you don't know if you are breaking into a rabbit's cage or the lion's. I bet he stopped all the burglaries in the neighborhood.

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ForgetDC April 30 2014 at 11:27 AM

Not sure where I stand on this one. Seems a lot of info is missing and if this was a
recurring problem, the PD must not have been much help. Maybe it was not necessary for him to kill them but he really had no idea if they were armed or not. The kids were in the wrong for sure and brought this on themselves.

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hazrdus389 April 30 2014 at 11:27 AM

So if I broke into the whitehouse or air force one they wouldn't shoot me? How about the governor's mansion in Minnesota? You should expect to be shot if you break into anyone's home. These kids weren't 9 and 10.. They knew damn well what they were doing.

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lippas April 30 2014 at 5:31 PM

I suppose laws can be vastly different from one state to the next. We all know the law in Florida from the Zimmerman case - The "Stand your ground" law. It's what they believe - what seems to work best for them....(Florida, with all its tourists on vacation, was the state that invented car-jacking, you see). In Texas, we have the "Home is your castle", or some such, law. It's quite important....it holds that when a home owner is faced with an intruder in his home, he should not have to prove that he is in fear for his life.....in such cases, "fear" is the 'default answer'. This law came about because, believe it or not, we had many home owners who were convicted of perpetrating violence on intruders .....some DA's made the case that the home owner should've broken the window to escape before shooting a knife-wielding intruder who had cornered him and kept coming.....which is absurd.
Smith obviously over-reacted......and was dumb enough to video-tape his blood lust

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beamerbeamer1 April 30 2014 at 5:31 PM

He should have known you can only get away with killing black people.

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1 reply
miserblofagain beamerbeamer1 April 30 2014 at 5:36 PM

That's not necessarily true everywhere, though in the deep south, it appears to be, sadly.

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1 reply
donpantanella miserblofagain April 30 2014 at 5:41 PM


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jeffreysisti April 30 2014 at 11:29 AM

the parents of the kids failed them, and now they are paying the altimate price for not teaching their kids. My kids don't break into other peoples homes

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1 reply
Paul jeffreysisti April 30 2014 at 12:49 PM

Neither did mine and they are grown up now. When my daughter-in law asked my son before I met her to describe his father he told her HE TAUGHT ME RIGHT FROM WRONG and he is an honest working person today

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