Murder trial underway for man accused of shooting to death 2 teen intruders
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – The amount of time that passed while Byron Smith waited in his basement after shooting two teenagers, and his state of mind may be the crux of his murder trial.
He has admitted to shooting teens Nick Brady and Haile Kifer after they entered his rural Little Falls home without permission on Thanksgiving Day 2012. But he didn’t report the deaths to authorities that day.
“He didn’t want to bother them on Thanksgiving,” Assistant State Prosecutor Kurt Wartner said Monday, the first day of Smith’s trial on two counts of first-degree premeditated murder.
Wartner described the scene at Smith’s rural Little Falls home the day after Smith shot Brady and Kifer.
Wartner said Smith acted intentionally, waiting for Brady and Kifer to enter his home while he sat in a chair in his basement. “He was down there waiting for them,” Wartner said. “He shot and killed them.”
Wartner said Smith’s neighbor, William Anderson, contacted the authorities to respond to Smith’s home after Smith contacted Anderson inquiring about contacting a lawyer.
When Morrison County sheriff’s deputies responded to Smith’s home, Smith led them to a bedroom with glass on the floor from a broken window and later his basement while he explained that his home had been broken into several times.
Smith told the deputies he needed to show them something before leading them into a basement workroom where Wartner said the bodies of Nick Brady and Haile Kifer “laid in a pile on the floor.”
Wartner said, upon seeing the bodies of Brady and Kifer, law officers knew they had been shot multiple times.
Defense focuses on fear
In his opening statement, defense attorney Steven Meshbesher said the time that passed after Smith shot the teens testified to Smith’s fear, not his guilt.
“He is not criminally responsible for the deaths,” Meshbesher said. “He is not a murderer.”
Minnesota law defines the justifiable taking of life to protect one’s own life and home, saying it’s only allowed “when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death” or while preventing a felony in the residence.
Meshbesher said that over a year’s time, Smith’s home was broken into approximately 12 times. He said firearms, a camera, gold coins worth thousands of dollars, and military medals and ribbons were among the items stolen.
“He became frightened – scared to live in his own home,” Meshbesher said “That is what the heart of this case is all about.”
Audio recordings of initial law enforcement interviews with Smith revealed Smith thought he had shot his neighbor’s daughter.
Smith told deputy investigator Jeremy Luberts that he thought a female neighbor, identified as Ashley Williams, had started breaking into his home 12 to 15 years ago.
The interview was recorded Nov. 23, 2012, after law enforcement officers arrested Smith.
In the recording, Smith described the moments before the shooting occurred, saying he was sitting in his basement reading a book when he heard someone trying to get into his home.
Smith told Luberts that after multiple break-ins, he had gotten into the habit of carrying his gun inside the house. “I don’t know who is going to break in, when.”
Smith said he had been victimized over and over again and had recently had guns stolen from his home. He said he figured anyone willing to steal guns might be willing to use them.
“I figure I have a choice of shooting or being shot,” he said.
‘I want him dead’
Smith said he was home alone when he heard the door rattle and later footsteps on the upstairs deck. He said he felt his blood pounding in his ears.
“I just wanted to calm down more than anything else,” he said. “I’m getting seriously stressed. There is somebody trying to get in and trying to sneak in and this has happened before.”
He said after the first shot he fired at Brady, the teen fell down the stairs and his shoes fell off. Brady lay on the floor face up staring at Smith. “He’s looking up at me ... I shoot him in the face. I want him dead,” Smith said.
Smith described retrieving a tarp in order to keep blood from soaking into the carpet. He dragged Brady into his workroom. “I just wanted it out of my sight,” Smith told Luberts.
Smith mentioned being “ganged up on” in elementary school.
“Everybody has a red button – everybody has a sore spot,” he told Luberts. “That’s a sore spot for me.”
Smith described remembering those feelings and feeling that those entering his home were ganging up on him. “I wasn’t thinking, I was just (inaudible) ... they’re ganging up on me. So I killed her, too.”
Smith said after he shot Kifer, whom he assumed to be Ashley Williams, she fell down the stairs. When he went to shoot again, his mini 14 rifle jammed, at which point Smith said Kifer laughed at him. “I pulled out the .22 and I shot her and shot her,” he said.
Later in the recording, Smith said, “It wasn’t a very long laugh. She was already hurting. You shoot at somebody and they laugh at you, you go again.”
Smith said he was concerned enough about his safety that he carried a loaded revolver in his home.
Smith described the final shot taken at Kifer as being to the chin. “I don’t want to prolong the suffering,” he said. “If I kill somebody I don’t want to leave them to suffer.”
Smith later told Luberts that Kifer gave out a “death twitch,” something that might be seen in an animal such as a deer or a beaver. “It was the first time I’ve ever seen it in a human,” he said.
Smith said he did not see the hands of either Kifer or Brady and was not sure if either was armed. “My thinking was, I’m not going ask if there’s a gun,” he said. “She could have or might not have had a gun. I didn’t check.”
Smith said Kifer continued to gasp on after he dragged her into the workroom.
Smith told Luberts he may have fired more shots than he needed to.
Smith said after he moved Kifer to the workroom, he waited in his basement thinking Ashley William’s father, Scott Williams, might come over looking for her.
By noon the next day, Smith said he was no longer afraid and at that point contacted Anderson to inquire about finding a lawyer.
Late in the recording Smith appears to have a sudden realization as to why his home was targeted by Brady and Kifer.
Intending to clean out his garage on Thanksgiving Day, Smith said he moved his vehicle down the street from his home out of fear it might be vandalized in his garage. He then returned to his home by foot.
“That’s why they came,” Smith is heard saying on the recording. “They thought I had gone away.”
Sarah Nelson Katzenberger, Forum News Service, INFORUM