LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – Audio recordings captured conversations Byron Smith had alone in his home following the Thanksgiving Day 2012 shootings of Nick Brady and Haile Kifer.
Several law enforcement agents testified Wednesday at Smith’s murder trial that two digital recorders were recovered from the home. One found in the workroom space of Smith’s basement had dead batteries.
The second recorder was discovered on a bookshelf in Smith’s basement living room with more than six hours of audio from the day of the shooting.
The recordings were condensed into a 29-minute audio presentation heard Wednesday in a Morrison County courtroom.
Jurors again heard the recording of the shooting, including the 11 minutes that passed between the time Smith shot and killed Brady in his basement living room and the moment he shot Kifer.
Smith was indicted on two counts of first-degree, premeditated murder in the teens’ deaths.
Prior to the shooting, Smith is heard talking in what appears to be an imaginary conversation with a person he identifies as Bruce.
Smith’s brother’s name is Bruce Smith.
“Stop by tomorrow, Bruce,” Smith is heard saying. “No rush, but as soon as it is convenient.”
Smith then goes on to tell “Bruce” to park north of the house and walk in from the west side.
Smith also says, “I realize I don’t have an appointment, but I would like to see one of the lawyers here.”
The next thing jurors hear is a repeat of the minutes that pass from the time Brady enters Smith’s home, eventually descends the stairs to Smith’s basement and is shot several times. Finally, Smith tells Brady, “You’re dead.”
What appears to be the sound of Kifer entering the upper level of the home is also heard.
Kifer is heard saying what sounds like, “Oh, my God ... I’m sorry,” before Smith shoots several more times and says, “You’re dying ... bitch.”
In the several hours after the shooting, the audiotape records Smith’s conversation while he remains alone in his basement. Smith first says: “Cute ... I’m sure she thought she was a real pro.” And later a continued imaginary phone call, “No rush but, you know, when it’s convenient for you. ... I feel a little safer. ... I feel totally safe. I’m still shaking a bit.”
Later Smith says: “I refuse to live in fear,” and “I left my house at 11:30 (a.m.), and they were dead by 1 (p.m.).”
Smith makes dozens of statements, some fully audible, some difficult to hear, about the shooting, about not wanting to live in fear and about the repercussions of entering into the home of a stranger.
“It’s all fun and cool and exciting and highly profitable until somebody kills you,” Smith said. “I was doing my civic duty. ... They messed with the wrong person. I had to do it.”
Smith makes several references to “the mess” left, calling it far worse than spilled food, vomit or other human waste.
“I don’t even see them as human,” Smith said at one point in the recording. “I see them as vermin.”
Smith is heard talking about the intruders taking “a slice” out of him.
“A $5,000 slice, a $10,000 slice,” he said. “If I gather enough evidence they may be prosecuted.”
Smith went on about going to court and, if the teens were found guilty, they might spend six months to a year in jail, “getting out” and “needing more money.”
“I cannot live a life like that,” he said. “I cannot have that chewing on me for the rest of my life.”
Twice Smith said, “I refuse to live with that level of fear in my life.”
Near the end of the recording, Smith makes statements about it being fun until “you go too far.”
“Until you take advantage of somebody who’s not a sucker. Who’s not a pansy.”
At the end of the 29 minutes, Smith talks about receiving a death threat.
“I gave you a copy of a death threat,” he said. “I expect you to do something about it.”
The defense questioned the markers made in the audio recording. Defense attorney Adam Johnson asked what was left out of the recording presented.
Agent Janet Nelson told him there were sounds of footsteps, heavy breathing and long periods of silence.
“It added to the time and not the content of what was going on,” Nelson explained.
Johnson pointed out that sounds of heavy breathing indicated a person’s emotion.
Surveillance video showed the final moments of Brady and Kifer’s lives before they entered Smith’s home.
Agent Nelson narrated the four-camera video as it showed nearly 90 minutes worth of footage taken from surveillance cameras outside Smith’s home.
Nelson said the recordings began at 11:25 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and continued until 12:53 p.m. the same day. Brady and Kifer are shown several minutes apart trying to open doors and looking into windows on the lower level of the home. Both wore hoods over their heads. Kifer carried a large red bag.
At one point, Brady spots one of the four cameras hidden atop a wood pile and turns it so the camera view is obscured.
Another camera view shows Kifer waiting just past the tree line on the north side of Smith’s property.
Brady is seen at 12:39 p.m. on the upper level of the home. “That’s the last we see of him on camera,” Nelson told the court.
The defense presented the same camera footage, but included footage recorded from Nov. 21-23, 2012 – the 24 hours before and after the shooting.
The footage appears to show Smith kneeling on the upper deck of his home and later walking out of the breezeway on the front of the house. At 11:08 a.m. on the day of the shooting, a person appears to be walking in the wooded area north of Smith’s home.
Later, Brady appears in front of the upper-deck camera and seems to point at the camera, something mentioned in Nelson’s testimony.
Johnson asked Nelson if she could see whether Brady had a firearm.
Nelson said she couldn’t tell.
“He could have had one in his jacket,” Johnson said. “Or more than one.”
Johnson focused on the large purse carried by Kifer, asserting that she too could have had a weapon concealed.
No firearms were found on Brady or Kifer.
Sarah Nelson Katzenberger, INFORUM