Little Falls, Minn. – Four months after deputies escorted him to prison for life for murdering two intruders, Byron Smith was back in court Tuesday to argue about the amount of restitution that he should pay the families of his victims.
Smith, who did not testify at his April trial, took the witness stand for about 15 minutes to explain what had been stolen in a series of burglaries at his home before the Thanksgiving Day 2012 shootings.
He cried, his jaw quivering, as he described his family building — the house that was burglarized on the Mississippi River. But he spoke calmly and precisely when he described the prior break-ins and his property losses. He did not testify about the day he killed 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady, unarmed cousins who broke into his home through a window.
Smith claimed he was terrified after the prior break-ins and was defending himself and his property. Prosecutors contended that Smith coldly executed the teens as they descended his basement stairs about 10 minutes apart, continuing to shoot them after they were no longer a threat.
The case gained national attention, raising questions about how far a homeowner can go to defend himself and his property.
Tuesday, attorneys for Smith, a 66-year-old retired State Department employee, were in court to argue that because he wasn’t compensated for items that Brady stole from his house in previous burglaries, he shouldn’t have to pay $20,242 in requested restitution to Brady’s family for their funeral and other expenses. Smith is also contesting the $21,859 that Judge Douglas Anderson already ordered that he pay Kifer’s family.
A fund had been set up at a local bank for the two families, but family members testified that they hadn’t used it. Kifer’s mother said she understood they were going to make a donation somewhere in the teens’ names.
Smith is serving two life sentences for the killings and is now housed in Stillwater state prison. His attorneys are appealing his conviction.
On the stand Tuesday, Smith, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, sat with his hands in cuffs and his ankles in shackles, bags under his eyes.
Smith described “four violent break-ins,” five burglaries and a sixth attempted burglary on the day of the murders. He testified that more than $53,000 worth of cash, coins and other items were taken, which he realized over time.
“It’s very hard to tell if something’s missing until you look for it and you can’t find it,” he said. He testified that he got none of the missing items back, but was reimbursed by his insurance company for about $16,000.
When prosecutor Brent Wartner asked him for details about what his insurance had reimbursed, Smith hesitated, shook his head and asked the prosecutor to refer to documents.
“I’ve had a lot of stress lately,” Smith said. “I don’t remember the exact amounts.”
Prosecutors contend the restitution is justified. They argued in court papers that there is no authority to limit restitution based on alleged previous bad acts of a victim. “The victim has never been allowed to respond to the allegations of prior bad acts because the defendant killed him,” they wrote, arguing that it’s not proper to disregard the victim’s presumption of innocence.
A friend of Brady’s, 18-year-old Cody Kasper, was also called to the stand Tuesday to testify that he had acted as a lookout for Brady during three burglaries at Smith’s house. Kasper, who had done yard work for Smith, testified that he knew of guns that Brady had stolen from Smith in a separate burglary. He testified that he was later questioned by authorities and told them that Nick Brady’s mother had gotten rid of the guns.
But in earlier testimony Tuesday, Brady’s mother, Kim Brady, said earlier that she knew nothing about stolen guns and that there were no guns in her house. Brady’s father, Jason Brady, testified that their son kept hunting guns at an uncle’s house.
After the hearing, Smith’s attorney Steve Meshbesher said before television cameras outside the courtroom that he aims to give the state Supreme Court a more complete picture of the case on appeal than the Morrison County jury got this spring.
He said they’re contesting the restitution because “we don’t owe it. They stole all this stuff from his home. … There’s no question they’re criminals.”
Meshbesher was upset during the trial that the judge had prevented him from introducing evidence linking Brady to the prior break-ins. Anderson ruled that Smith didn’t know who he was shooting when he fired his gun.
Meshbesher said it was difficult for Smith to return to his hometown Tuesday in prison garb. “To say he’s stressed … that’s putting a nice view on it,” he said.
Meshbesher had asked the judge for a continuance so he could get a transcript of the day’s proceedings, to capture the testimony of Kasper and Brady’s parents. Attorneys were instructed to file written arguments about restitution in October and November.