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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."

Join the discussion

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Danny April 30 2014 at 1:49 PM

His only crime was not having regret. We are tired of this crap and its getting worst cos kids believe its fine. Sorry they died. Here in Atlanta Ga we have a yourg kid leave school rob a mother walking her child. When she had no money he shot her two year old between the eyes and went back to school. no big deal. So how do you tell the difference in kids. You can not. So it s down to this DO NOT BREAK THE LAW. Here again our nation not following the law just pick and choose. Not showing their records was just plain stupid. They had robbed him before so where does that leave us? they knew better but choose wrong. Murder was not far behind for them to do next.

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redoak58 April 30 2014 at 1:25 PM

This is crazy. The man had every right to defend himself. He had no way of knowing these criminals intentions. If he hadn't made sure they were dead they could have gotten a shot off and killed him. I am so sick of liberalism in this country. This is what happens when they control the outcome. If someone enters my home unlawfully if given the chance I would make sure they were good and dead.

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ronp7214 April 30 2014 at 1:21 PM

C'mon people. He went way over the line. He actually seemed to enjoy the "finishing shot". Scare em off or shoot them if your life really is in danger.

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xybrown3 April 30 2014 at 1:15 PM

If he would kill 2 black man he would be free now

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2 replies
colortrue xybrown3 April 30 2014 at 1:23 PM

Why do you say that?

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Dans Screen xybrown3 April 30 2014 at 1:38 PM

Good chance they were black

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1 reply
Dans Screen Dans Screen April 30 2014 at 1:39 PM

According to statistics

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DOBL1 April 30 2014 at 1:14 PM

I feel that he shouldn't have killed them. He definitely should have shot them. They broke into his home and he was protecting himself. One bullet per person should have been sufficient.

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3 replies
jandjhoye April 30 2014 at 1:13 PM


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4 replies
no1gum April 30 2014 at 1:09 PM

It sounds like Byron Smith set the stage to kill someone, anyone. He suspected his neighbor. He claims he was robbed a few times, including having guns stolen. I think it's pretty rare that a house is burglarized several times. Guns were supposedly stolen, and the cops didn't follow up on that? He definitely chose the most violent outcome, he could have chosen to call the cops and held the teens with his gun. He could have just wounded them. If the two teens continued to burlarize and use drugs, chances are they would eventually have died or gone to prison, or maybe they would have straightened out and become good citizens.

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1 reply
colortrue no1gum April 30 2014 at 1:25 PM

That's hypothetical. They could have jumped him given the chance, too.

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hatpillbill April 30 2014 at 1:07 PM

I was taught at an early age, never point a gun at anything you don't intend to kill. This man had the right to kill these two young thugs

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radarmannoshoes April 30 2014 at 1:07 PM

He kills one and sets the trap for the second. No 911 calls. That's muder.

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kcpitcher April 30 2014 at 1:07 PM

Very simple, the kids should never have been there to begin with. Seems to me the two kids thought they were the ones above the law and their families think so too. Kifer should have had the chance to live in his house and not fear being burglarized. The kids are the ones that made the conscious choice to break-in and sadly paid dearly for it. Sorry folks, but my vote would have been not guilty!

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."

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