A Little Falls teenager who was shot to death after breaking into the home of Byron David Smith on Thanksgiving Day has been linked to two felony burglaries of Smith's property in the months before the shooting, court records show.
Nick Brady, 17, allegedly broke into Smith's house and, later, his garage and stole several items, including an envelope filled with cash, a video camcorder and a chain saw, according to two criminal complaints filed in Morrison County District Court this week.
Smith, 64, faces two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Brady and his cousin, Haile Kifer, 18, as they broke into Smith's home along the backwaters of the Mississippi River.
The gruesome details of the killings, which involved multiple shots fired at the teenagers as they walked down the stairs to Smith's basement and as they lay dying, immediately sparked an intense debate in Little Falls and beyond over just how far a homeowner can go in defending his property.
Neither teen was armed. And in the minutes after the shootings, Smith dragged the bodies into a workshop, where they remained until a neighbor called police the next day.
Smith's brother and a neighbor have consistently defended him, saying the retired security engineer for U.S. embassies, a Little Falls native, had been repeatedly victimized in the months leading up to the shootings, although authorities have only one report of a break-in, in October.
"You have the right to defend your home, and he's been through hell," neighbor John Lange said days after the shootings. "They tortured him and targeted him, and it's not good."
Tale of two burglaries
The details of the burglaries involving Brady were spelled out in two criminal complaints filed this week against Cody M. Kasper, 17, a friend of Brady's who faces charges of aiding and abetting in connection with the crimes, which occurred last summer and fall.
Like Brady, Kasper once worked odd jobs for Smith cleaning up the homeowner's property.
According to the complaints:
Shortly after the shootings, investigators executed a search warrant at Kasper's home in Little Falls, believing some of the items stolen from Smith's house and garage might be found there.
At that time, Kasper told authorities of the two break-ins.
He said that in both instances, he never entered Smith's house or garage, but simply acted as a lookout for Brady, who, in addition to stealing the cash, camcorder and chain saw, also took rolls of copper wire and a gas siphoning kit.
The teenagers agreed that if Smith or someone showed up or came down the driveway to the home, "Kasper would notify N.B. via cellphone," the complaints said. "Kasper stated that there was an active phone call (open line) between Kasper and N.B. during the entire burglary so that Kasper could quickly warn N.B. if someone was coming."
One complaint said that after the summer burglary, Brady bought Kasper an ATV as well as clothes and shoes for his help.
Proof of 'victimization'?
Twin Cities defense attorney Steve Meshbesher, who represents Smith, said Tuesday that the charges against Kasper and Brady's involvement help build the case that Smith had been repeatedly victimized.
Meshbesher said Smith began noticing some of his belongings, including a shotgun, were missing after he hired Brady, Kasper and other teens to stack wood and perform chores.
He said Smith reported "a half dozen" burglaries to authorities over several months. It got so bad, Meshbesher said, that Smith installed a security system "because he couldn't protect his home."
Authorities have also tied Brady and Kifer to a burglary the day before the shootings, when six bottles of prescription medicine were stolen from another homeowner's property.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, who is prosecuting Smith at the request of Morrison County, said Wednesday that the criminal case against Kasper illustrates how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.
If you're burglarized, he said, you call police, and they investigate.
"It's only when people take the law into their own hands that bad things come about," Orput said, adding that the Smith case "is an example of exactly that."
Smith "had every opportunity to call police," he added. "And he chose not to do it, and the result is, he's going to face trial for murder."
Smith's next court appearance is scheduled for May 6.
Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425