The trial of Byron Smith opened in Little Falls, with the jury hearing his interview with police after he killed teen intruders.
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – Just a day after he had shot two teenagers dead in his home, Byron Smith spoke with calm precision and polite cooperation as he explained to a sheriff’s sergeant that fear and a series of thefts drove him to fire the fatal shots.
In a recorded interview played for jurors in the opening day of his murder trial Monday, Smith described how he assumed the intruders were thieves who had been targeting him, stealing thousands in cash and a couple of his guns. He decided, he said, that it was shoot or be shot.
“I was far over the edge,” Smith said. “I was reacting.”
Smith, now 65, sat quietly in the Morrison County courtroom Monday, dabbing his reddened face with a tissue.
More than a year after the Thanksgiving Day break-in and shootings made him a potent symbol in the national debate over the rights of homeowners to defend their property and families, a rural Minnesota jury must decide if Smith was a beleaguered victim or calculating killer. Smith is claiming he was defending himself and his home when he shot 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady after they broke into his house in 2012. Prosecutors say he crossed the legal line into murder when he continued to shoot after each unarmed intruder was wounded and no longer posed a threat. They contend Smith was a vigilante waiting in ambush for the teens.
In the interview recording with Morrison County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Luberts, Smith talked about being hounded by the thefts and how he thought the neighbor’s daughter was in on them.
Sitting in his favorite basement reading chair with a paperback that day, Smith said he got “seriously stressed” when he heard someone rattle the door handles to his house and saw a shadow through a picture window.
Soon, he heard a window break, then he heard someone walking upstairs and when the intruder descended, Smith saw feet, legs, then hips and shot twice. The intruder fell face up, Smith could see it was a male.
Then, “I shoot him in the face. I want him dead,” Smith told the sergeant. He put the bloody body on a tarp and dragged it into a basement workshop to keep from staining his basement carpet, he said.
‘Ganging up on me’
He reloaded his rifle and sat again. He tried to calm down, but blood was pounding in his ears and he heard more footsteps upstairs and feared, “they’re ganging up on me,” he told Luberts.
He shot the next intruder, wearing a black hoodie tightly drawn to her face, in much the same way. She tumbled down the stairs, too.
“My thinking was, I’m not going to ask if there’s a gun,” he said. He pulled the trigger to shoot her again, he said, but when the gun clicked in a misfire, he heard her laugh at him. He pulled out another gun and shot more.
“Yes I fired more shots than I needed to,” he told Luberts, adding that he was feeling threatened and “I was no longer willing to live in fear.”
When the female stopped moving, he dragged her by her clothes and into the workshop, too. There, he said, he noticed she was still gasping and didn’t believe she should suffer, so he gave her “a good clean finishing shot,” he said. “She gave out the death twitch.”
Questioned about why he had continued to shoot, Smith explained that he was afraid the intruders would get up again and he didn’t want to wait for them to pull out weapons.
“I wasn’t looking at her hands,” he explained, adding that he believed they were gun thieves. “As far as I was concerned they were totally dangerous.”
His voice cracked on the recording as he talked about spending 20 years overseas and never having any problems like he was having in his hometown.