The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 28, 2012

Little Falls shooting stirs strong emotions on both sides

MANKATO — Local officials knew the grisly killings of two teenagers who broke into a man's home on Thanksgiving Day would stir up strong emotions in their small central Minnesota town.

Some believed the homeowner went too far by repeatedly shooting the unarmed teens, including one victim as she gasped for breath. But others said 64-year-old Byron Smith was within his rights to protect his remote Little Falls home.

Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said Tuesday that his office has received several calls since Smith was charged with murder, some critical of the charges. But the sheriff said that even though he is a firm believer in property owners' rights, the charges in this case are appropriate.

"The fact of the matter is, if people have all of the facts, they would not be quite so divided in their opinions," he told The Associated Press, noting that many details have not been made public. "It's not as controversial or as unclear an issue as people might think at first blush."

Smith, a retired U.S. State Department employee, was charged Monday with two counts of murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Haile Kifer and her cousin, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady. According to the criminal complaint, Smith shot the teens multiple times as they tried to burglarize his house, which he said had been broken into before.

Minnesota law gives homeowners the right to protect themselves and their property, but Wetzel said they don't have the right to execute an intruder once the threat is neutralized.

According to the complaint, Smith told authorities he was fearful after several break-ins at his home in the town of about 8,000 people. The complaint said he told authorities that he was in his basement on Thanksgiving Day when he heard a window break upstairs. When he saw Brady on the basement stairwell, he fired — then shot him again in the face after he fell down.

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