Little Falls man who shot two teens to death after break-in was convicted of 4 murder counts. The jury needed only three hours to weigh self-defense claims. He was sentenced to life in prison.
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – When it was all over Tuesday, moments after he had been swiftly found guilty on four counts of murder for shooting two teenage intruders in his home, Byron Smith did not stand in respect for the jury.
Instead Smith, 65, sat at the defense table, silent.
Everyone around him rose to attention as jury members filed out of the Morrison County courtroom where during the tense, searing trial, they all had heard audio recordings of gunshots booming out, then of two teenagers groaning and screaming, then Smith muttering as they lay dead on his basement floor: “I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
Smith was sentenced immediately after the jury’s verdict to a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Though Smith had been free on bail during the trial, deputies took him into custody as he left the courtroom.
Smith’s attorney, Steve Meshbesher, told the judge that Smith plans to appeal.
Asked if he wanted to speak before his sentencing, Smith said only, “Thank you for the opportunity, your honor. I decline.”
Jurors took three hours to deliver their verdict. They were charged with answering the question of whether Smith acted as a reasonable person would have under the circumstances when he killed 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady, unarmed cousins who broke into his home through a window.
Family members of the victims cried quietly as the verdicts were read.
The verdict and immediate sentencing inside a packed courtroom brought the nationally watched trial to a close. Smith had become a symbol in the countrywide debate over so-called castle doctrine laws, raising questions about how far a homeowner can go to defend himself and his property.
‘Robbed of their lives’
Relatives took the opportunity to give victim impact statements before Judge Douglas Anderson imposed two concurrent life sentences.
Shot on Thanksgiving Day 2012, the two teenage cousins loved family gatherings, Kifer’s aunt Laurie Skipper said. “Now there are two empty seats at every one of them.”
Brady’s grandmother, Bonnie Schaeffel, told the judge: “Smith was robbed of things. Nick and Haile were robbed of their lives.”
Prosecutor Pete Orput had asked the judge to impose consecutive life sentences as a symbolic gesture, but the judge declined.
Orput said outside the courtroom that he was grateful that justice was done but also saddened. “We’ve got two dead kids over nothing,” he said.
Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher said late Tuesday that Smith was “very distraught, he was emotionally upset.”
Meshbesher told throngs of reporters after the trial that he wasn’t allowed to show jurors all the evidence that he felt was necessary.
He had sought, for instance, to introduce evidence of Kifer and Brady’s previous troubles with the law, including Brady’s connection to prior burglaries. Anderson ruled, though, that Smith didn’t know who he was shooting that day, so their histories or reputations weren’t relevant.