This post was written by Connor Balough
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — A Minnesota homeowner who killed two teens during a break-in was convicted Tuesday of premeditated murder and will spend his life in prison without parole.
Bryon Smith, 65, had claimed he was defending himself during the break-in at his home in this city of about 8,000 on Thanksgiving Day 2012.
Minnesota law allows a person to use deadly force for defense, but that action must be considered reasonable.
During closing arguments, the six-man, six-woman jury heard two portrayals of Smith — one a man who feared for his life because of previous burglaries and another of a man who baiting the teenagers in what a prosecutor likened to deer hunting.
Smith, 65, was convicted of two counts each of first- and second-degree murder in the deaths of Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17. The cousins were killed Nov. 22, 2012, after Smith fired a total of nine shots from two different weapons when Brady broke into his house on the Mississippi River about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis and Kifer followed about 11 minutes later.
Prosecutor Peter Orput called it a “very serious but a very simple case.”
Who killed the teenagers, where and when isn’t in doubt, he said. He focused instead on premeditation when talking to the jury. He pointed out that Smith had moved his pickup truck away from his house that day to make it look like nobody was home.
That was baiting the teens like hunting, Orput said. He then discussed the chair where Smith sat in his basement, waiting for the burglars to come to his house again.
“There’s your deer stand,” he said of the chair.
The deaths of Kifer and Brady were “not pretty; they were difficult.” But the teens weren’t murdered, defense lawyer Steve Meshbesher said.
Smith had a right to defend himself and his residence that day when two burglars broke in, Meshbesher said. Smith didn’t know if they had weapons or were planning to harm or kill him.
“He was confronted by a situation: Do or die,” Meshbesher said. “Or at least he thought so because a month earlier he had guns stolen.”
Kifer and Brady, not Smith, were the ones who made bad choices that day, the lawyer said. He called Smith “courageous” for facing a charge he called “unfair.”
Orput asked the jury to consider whether Smith was reasonable to think the burglars might hurt or kill him and whether Smith’s response to that concern was reasonable. Orput played excerpts of Smith’s interview with law enforcement after his arrest and highlighted portions that he said showed Smith as a vigilante, planning and waiting for the opportunity to kill.
Smith wasn’t a man in fear but a man angry about past unsolved burglaries and fed up that police hadn’t done anything to help him, Orput said.
“Was it fear that drove this or something else? Anger. Resentment?” the prosecutor said.
Orput also played again the recording that Smith made before, during and after the shootings. He singled out three things that Smith said to himself before the killings: “in your left eye” was the first. Kifer had been shot just below the left eye.
“Is that fear or a plan?” Orput asked the jury.
Smith also rehearsed a call to his brother and to a law office asking to meet with a lawyer.
Jurors heard what Smith said in the five hours after the killings. He degraded both teens as “vermin” who were “social problems, social mistakes.”
Meshbesher told jurors that Smith didn’t set a trap for Kifer and Brady and that all he wanted was to be left alone in his own house. Smith was a victim in this case.
“They came in. He did not invite them,” Meshbesher said. “Mr. Smith has a legal right under the laws of this state to defend his home.”
The jurors deliberated about two hours, and the judge sentenced Smith immediately afterward.
original story on USA Today