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Byron Smith made his way through security at the Morrison County Courthouse, Monday, April 21, 2014 in Little Falls, Minn.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Little Falls murder trial: Deputy testifies Smith reported break-ins

  • Article by: Pam Louwagie
  • Star Tribune
  • April 25, 2014 - 9:42 AM

– Byron Smith gave a memo to the local sheriff’s office requesting an investigation into break-ins at his property the month before he killed two intruders in his basement, according to testimony in Smith’s murder trial Thursday.

After prosecutors rested their case, defense attorneys brought a sheriff’s deputy to the witness stand to question the thoroughness of the investigation on the break-ins. Smith contends he was terrified and hounded by a series of previous burglaries and was acting in defense of himself and his home when he killed 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

Smith documented guns and other items that had been stolen and described a kicked-in door and torn screen at an adjacent property that he owns. The memo came as sheriff’s were investigating an Oct. 27 burglary at Smith’s house.

Smith shot unarmed cousins Kifer and Brady after they broke in a month later and descended his basement stairs about 10 minutes apart.

Prosecutors say he crossed a legal line into murder by continuing to shoot them after they were wounded and no longer posed a threat.

They portray him as a vigilante who was waiting in ambush in a basement chair.

The case has drawn national attention amid controversy over how far homeowners can go to defend their homes.

Prosecution rests

Prosecutors wrapped up their case earlier in the day by showing autopsy photographs of the teens’ gunshot wounds on a screen in the courtroom.

Smith sat calmly with his hands on his lap, eyes fixed on the images of the damage his shots had done. The teen’s parents sat in the gallery.

Brady’s body contained three gunshot wounds, each of which would have eventually been fatal, according to testimony from Kelly Mills of the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office.

Mills conceded under defense cross-examination that experts couldn’t rule out the possibility that the first two shots — one fired into his abdomen and another through his left rear shoulder and back — may not have completely incapacitated Brady.

Defense attorneys contend Smith was still scared that they might have used weapons against him.

The final, fatal shot went through Brady’s hand and into his temple from between six inches to three feet away, Mills testified.

Testimony described six gunshot wounds to Kifer’s body — the fifth shot fired at close range from under her left ear and killing her, Mills testified.

The final shot also came at close range under her chin.

Gun jammed

Smith told authorities that his gun jammed after he fired the first shot at Kifer, so he pulled out a handgun and continued shooting with that.

He said he dragged her body near Brady’s in a basement workshop and fired a “good, clean finishing shot” under her chin and into her skull after hearing her make noise.

Mills testified under cross-examination that the respiratory system in a body can make sounds after death if it is being moved.

Though Smith’s surveillance-type audio recording of the shootings contained six shots on Kifer, Mills left open the possibility that some of the wounds could have been from a bullet passing through a limb and back into the body.

No drugs or alcohol

While tests showed no drugs or alcohol in Brady’s system, Kifer had enough cough medicine in her system that she would have been intoxicated by it, Mills said.

On Wednesday, jurors heard the highlights of six hours of Smith’s own audio recording, most of it after the teens were slain, included Smith 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.”

Closing arguments in the case are expected early next week.

 

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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