The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 28, 2014

Closings set for man who killed teens

LITTLE FALLS (AP) — A Little Falls 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, told Morrison County District Judge Douglas Anderson he understood his rights. He's charged with first- and second-degree 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 themselves in their homes. Smith sat downstairs and waited for the two cousins. Prosecutors argue that he went too far when he continued to shoot the unarmed teens even after they posed no danger. Smith also waited a day to report the killings to police. The defense says Smith was fearful in part because some of his guns were stolen in earlier burglaries.

Anderson set closing arguments for Tuesday morning.

The judge told the jury that Minnesota law allows people to use deadly force in self-defense if they fear death or great bodily harm, or to prevent a felony from being committed in one's dwelling. He said a defendant has no duty to retreat, but that a defendant's actions must have been "reasonable under the circumstances." He also told them to follow the law as he explained it, "even if you believe the law is or should be different."

Private detective Ross Rolshoven, of Grand Forks, N.D., studied the layout of Smith's basement for the defense. He testified Monday 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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