The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 21, 2014

Minnesota homeowner goes on trial in teens' deaths

Byron Smith, 65, of Little Falls, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the slayings of two teenagers

LITTLE FALLS — A Minnesota man on trial for killing two teenagers after they broke into his house had planned the killings, and was lying in wait in his basement with a book, some snacks and two guns, prosecutors said Monday.

But a defense attorney countered that his client was terrified after several increasingly violent break-ins and hid after hearing a window break and footsteps upstairs.

Byron Smith, 65, of Little Falls, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the slayings of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. The killings rocked the small central Minnesota city of about 8,000 and stirred debate about how far a person can go in defending their home.

Smith has claimed self-defense, saying he feared the teens were armed and he was on edge after earlier repeated break-ins at his home. Under Minnesota law, a person may use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home or dwelling, but authorities have said Smith crossed a line when he continued to shoot the teens after they were no longer a threat.

"This is not a case of whodunit," defense attorney Steve Meshbesher told jurors Monday. "Mr. Smith is the person who shot and killed those two people, but he is not criminally responsible for the deaths. He is not guilty of murder."

Assistant Washington County Attorney Brent Wartner told jurors that Smith thought a neighbor girl had been breaking into his home, so on that Thanksgiving Day, Smith sat in his basement, waiting. Evidence in the case will include Smith's statements and audio from a recorder that Smith had set up in a bookcase the day of the break-in, Wartner said.

"He's down in the basement, in a chair, tucked between two bookcases at the bottom of the stairs. He said he was down there reading a book ... with his Mini-14, a .22-caliber revolver, some energy bars and a bottle of water," Wartner said.

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