The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 13, 2014

Minn. man who shot, killed teens heads to trial

Case stirred debate about how far a person can go to protect one's home

LITTLE FALLS — After a central Minnesota man repeatedly shot a teen who entered his home, he dragged the boy's bloodied body into a basement workshop, authorities say, sat down — and waited.

When another teen began descending the stairway minutes later, Byron Smith fired again. The girl tumbled down the stairs and he shot her some more, including what he allegedly called "a good, clean finishing shot" into her head as she gasped for air, according to a criminal complaint.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 2012, and Smith, 65, left the teens' bodies in his basement overnight before asking a neighbor to call police, the complaint said.

Smith, of Little Falls, claims he was defending himself. Though the teens were unarmed, he told police he'd been burglarized before and feared they had a weapon. He faces two counts of premeditated, first-degree murder in a case that rocked this quiet city of about 8,000 and stirred debate about just how far a person can go to protect one's home from a potential threat.

On Monday, attorneys will begin selecting jurors to decide whether Smith acted reasonably when he shot Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, or whether his actions amounted to a cold-blooded, calculated execution.

The trial is expected to stir up emotion in this rural area that straddles the Mississippi River about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Many residents who spoke to The Associated Press said that the teens were wrong to enter Smith's home — but that he went too far. Still, some believe Smith was justified. Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel's office received several calls in the days after the killings, some of them critical of the charges.

"There will always be those people that think that he did nothing wrong, regardless of the facts," Wetzel told the AP last week. "But once all the facts are known, I think the number of people who think he did nothing wrong is going to be reduced dramatically."

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