The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 28, 2014

Defense rests for Minnesota man who killed teens

Byron Smith declines to testify on his own behalf

LITTLE FALLS — A Minnesota man charged with fatally shooting two teenagers who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 chose not to testify in his own behalf Monday, and his defense rested after calling three character witnesses and a private detective who sought to bolster the homeowner's claim of self-defense.

Byron Smith, 65, of Little Falls, told Morrison County District Judge Douglas Anderson he understood his rights. The judge said he would give the jury its instructions Monday afternoon and closing arguments would likely begin Tuesday morning.

Smith is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady. The retired U.S. State Department security officer told investigators he was defending himself when he shot the two cousins in his basement because he feared for his life after several break-ins.

The case has fueled debate over how far people can go in defending their homes. Minnesota law allows a person to use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home, but those actions must be reasonable.

Prosecutors argued that Smith sat downstairs and waited for the two cousins, and said he went too far when he continued to shoot the unarmed teens even after they posed no danger. Smith waited a day to report the killings to police.

The defense says Smith was fearful because of earlier burglaries that included theft of guns.

Private detective Ross Rolshoven, of Grand Forks, N.D., studied the layout of Smith's basement for the defense. He testified that if someone coming down the stairs was carrying a shotgun, shouldered and ready to fire, Smith could not have seen it until that person was most of the way down because the ceiling was in the way.

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