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Fearful or vengeful? Attorneys give contrasting portrayals of Byron Smith in intruder shootings

Posted by: Pam Louwagie Updated: April 21, 2014 - 12:32 PM

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. –- Byron Smith waited a full day before calling someone after shooting two teenage intruders in his house because he was “crouched in his basement, clutching a weapon for fear more people were either in or near his house,” his defense attorney told a Morrison County jury Monday.

In his opening statement at trial, defense attorney Steve Meshbesher portrayed a scene of Smith so terrified from a series of break-ins that he began to wear a holster and pistol in his house, couldn’t sleep and was “wondering day and night when the next burglary would occur … afraid and fearful for his safety, and possibly his life.”
 
Smith, 65, is on trial for first-degree murder in the Thanksgiving day, 2012 shootings of teenage cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, as they descended his basement stairs after breaking a bedroom window to get in. Smith is claiming he acted in defense of himself and his home.
 
Prosecutors are contending he crossed a legal line into murder by continuing to shoot the unarmed teens once they were injured and no longer posed a threat.
 
Minnesota law allows a person to take a life to avert death or great bodily harm, or to prevent a felony in his or her home. Juries are instructed to consider the circumstances and whether it was a decision “a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger perceived.
 
Prosecutors previously portrayed Smith as a vigilante who was waiting in ambush for the unarmed teens.
 
Monday, prosecutor Brent Wartner told the jury in opening statements that Smith waited to call anyone after the shootings because he had thought his neighbor’s daughter was behind the break-ins and he thought the girl’s father would come looking for her next.  “He wanted to be ready,” Wartner said.
 
Smith had set up surveillance and was waiting in his basement with loaded weapons and an audio recorder running for six hours before, during and after the shootings, Wartner highlighted in his opening statement.
 
Wartner said the recording will show evidence of a series of shots to each victim and testimony will show that Smith told law enforcement that he fired a “good clean finishing shot” into Kifer’s head when he heard her gasp.
 
Smith had dragged both teenagers’ bodies into a basement workshop and waited 24 hours before calling a neighbor the next day. The neighbor then called authorities.
 
Fourteen jurors began hearing the case Monday, including two alternates. If convicted of first-degree murder, Smith faces life in prison.

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