More to it than meets the eye: The Byron Smith case

  • Article by: PAUL M. OLSON
  • Updated: April 30, 2014 - 6:28 PM

In the heat of the moment, homeowner Byron Smith did what many of us might do.

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I was upstairs watching a Vikings-Packers game on a Sunday night a few years ago when my wife screamed, “Someone is breaking into our house!”

At first I thought it was a hoax to get me away from the game, but she kept imploring me to come downstairs. I did, and quickly saw a woman fleeing out our back yard, trying to hurdle our back fence, beyond which a car was waiting to retrieve her and the proceeds of the robbery.

Stupidly, I pursued and pulled her off the fence and wrestled her to the ground, my one year as a wrestler paying off. In hindsight, I was lucky she didn’t have a gun. She screamed: “Let me go! I’m pregnant!”

About 30 minutes later, the St. Paul police arrived to relieve me of the victim.

In stunned amazement, we asked the police what we could do to prevent future burglaries. A friendly female cop replied: “You can either get a burglar alarm or a gun …. But if you get a gun, shoot to kill, because the wounded, breathing burglar will claim, ‘I was just looking for a warm place to sleep for the night.’ And you, sir, will be charged with attempted manslaughter.”

Byron Smith did what the cops recommended, except that he also produced evidence against himself with the tape recordings. Was this self-incrimination?

Did he do in the heat of the moment what many others would do, given the recent terrorizing break-ins?

One way to read the Fifth Commandment is, “Thou shalt not murder.” Circumstances that justified killing in Old Testament times were clearly defined. Someone breaking into one’s dwelling and stealing was one of those circumstances.

Byron Smith’s guilty verdict is either a miscarriage of justice, or the Ten Commandments need serious revision.

By the way, I will never own a gun. The burglar in my case was soon released and failed to show up for her court appearance. The Police Department said it gets about 30 of these a week and doesn’t have time to pursue them.

 

Paul M. Olson lives in St. Paul.

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