LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – In the hours after he killed two teenage intruders in his home, Byron Smith can be heard taking credit for the deaths, referring to the dead teens as “vermin.”
“I felt like I was cleaning up a mess,” he whispers pointedly, apparently to himself, in a monologue captured on a tape recorder he kept in his basement. “I was doing my civic duty.”
Smith had recorded more than six hours of home surveillance-type audio on a hand-held recorder on that fateful Thanksgiving Day in 2012, recordings that also captured him saying, “I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
Prosecutors played a spliced tape of highlights from the recordings for the jury, including audio before, during and after Smith shot 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady amid groans and screams from the teens along with utterances and name-calling from Smith.
The truncated version of the tape was a pivotal point in the prosecution’s case against Smith, who has become a national lightning rod amid widespread debate about how far a homeowner can go to defend himself and his property.
More audio heard
Smith, a retired U.S. State Department employee who set up security systems for embassies, argues that he legally killed the intruders under Minnesota law allowing him to use deadly force to defend himself and avert someone from committing a felony in his home. He claims he was terrified after a series of break-ins at his wooded property on the northern edge of town.
Prosecutors say Smith went well beyond the law by continuing to shoot the unarmed teens once he wounded them and they were no longer a threat.
Juries are instructed to consider the circumstances and whether it’s a decision a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger perceived.
It was the second time the jurors heard audio of the gunshot blasts, groans and screams during the killings as they descended Smith’s basement stairs.
Wednesday, they also heard other audio highlights spliced together by a state investigative agent, who testified that Smith is heard “just talking to himself” periodically for six hours after the shootings.
Before the shootings, Smith can be heard saying, “I realize I don’t have an appointment, but I would like to see one of the lawyers here.”
Kifer’s mom put her face in her hands as the killings were replayed. After the tape played, Smith appeared emotional, his face red.
Defense attorneys later questioned the splicing, pointing out that pieces they consider important were left out.
On the audio, Smith is heard saying, “I’m safe now,” then whispering later: “I feel a little bit safer. Not totally safe. I’m still shaking a bit … I left my house at 11:30. They were both dead by 1.”
Among his other comments that followed:
“I refuse to live in fear,” Smith is heard saying. Then later, “I felt like I was cleaning up a mess, worse than spilled food, worse than vomit.”
“Fun, cool, exciting and highly profitable until someone kills you.”
“I’m sorry. So much regret. I try to be a good person.”
He also calls himself a sucker and says people think they can take advantage of him.
Smith told authorities a day after the shootings that he thought a neighbor girl was behind the break-ins at his house, and he didn’t trust her parents, either.
On the audio played Wednesday, he is heard at various points saying:
“Like I give a damn who she is,” and “mother and father are semi-psychotic … I’d put even odds that one or the other will come over here with a gun.”
Teens caught on tape
The jury also saw Smith’s own surveillance video of him moving his truck away from his house at 11:25 a.m., then walking back to his house at 11:45.
He said later that he moved it to keep it safe while he planned to clean out his garage that day.
On the video, Brady, wearing a camouflage jacket and a hood, approaches the house at 12:33 p.m. He is seen peering into windows and trying doors.
At one point, he spotted a security camera tucked into a wood pile and turned it away, the agent testified.
At 12:51 p.m. Kifer is seen approaching the house.
Wearing a hoodie tied tightly around her face and carrying a red handbag, she appeared to have a cellphone to her ear as she walked up outdoor steps to Smith’s deck.
Later she is seen by the front door, then walks off camera at 12:53 p.m., the last point either of the teens is seen alive.
Mistrial request denied
On cross-examination, defense attorney Adam Johnson pointed out that, at one point, Brady can be seen looking square into another security camera and pointing at it.
On the audio tape, they contend evidence such as sounds of Smith unscrewing light bulbs can be heard five hours after the break-ins.
Prosecutors had contended earlier that the light bulbs had been removed before the shootings.
The video and audio came as part of a day that included Judge Douglas Anderson denying a request for a mistrial from Smith’s lawyers.
The lawyers contend they didn’t know about ballistics notes showing gunshot holes in Kifer’s hood were estimated to be from under 6 inches and under 12 inches away. Anderson gave them time to review a voluminous file.
Later, another investigator testified that he photographed the scene and found, among other things, a .22-caliber rifle in the shower, a surveillance system in the basement workshop that was reading off four cameras and a cellphone jammer on the kitchen counter.
When he plugged the jammer in, he testified, it worked.