MANKATO — The teenage cousins shot and killed during an alleged home burglary on Thanksgiving Day may have committed a similar crime a day earlier at a house nearby, authorities said.
Intruders broke into the Little Falls home of retired teacher Richard L. Johnson on November 21 and stole coins and prescription medication. Johnson was overseas at the time, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune report (http://bit.ly/Y4ueUf ).
Before the burglary had been discovered, deputies were called to the neighborhood because a red Mitsubishi Eclipse was spotted in the driveway of Johnson's empty house, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said. Nicholas Brady, 17, had been driving that car, although it wasn't registered to him. Deputies questioned him then let him go, Wetzel said.
A day later, Byron Smith shot and killed Brady and Brady's 18-year-old cousin, Haile Kifer, in the basement of his Little Falls home. Smith told authorities that he disturbed the pair as they tried to break into his house and that he shot them in self-defense. The same red Mitsubishi Eclipse was discovered Friday parked around the corner from Smith's property.
"There are some preliminary indications that the Johnson burglary may have been committed by the Brady boy and the Kifer girl, but it's too early now to say definitively," Wetzel said, adding that more information could be available Wednesday.
Wetzel couldn't immediately say whether any of Johnson's belongings were found in Brady's car.
"I do know they found quite a bit of evidence in their vehicle that was parked near the Smith place," the sheriff said late Tuesday. "We're trying to investigate whether it might have come from the Johnson burglary."
Smith, a retired U.S. State Department employee, was charged Monday with two counts of murder. According to the criminal complaint, Smith shot the teens multiple times. He told investigators his home had been broken into several times 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.
Smith told authorities that he was in his basement last Thursday when he heard a window break upstairs. When he saw Brady on the basement stairwell, he fired at the teenager then shot him again in the face after he fell down.
The complaint said Smith told an investigator: "I want him dead."
Smith said he dragged Brady's body into his workshop. When Kifer came down the stairs, he shot her multiple times. He dragged her into the room and as she gasped for air, he fired what he described as a "good clean finishing shot" under her chin "up into the cranium," the complaint said.