The trial against Byron Smith, a 65-year old retiree accused of murdering two teenagers who broke into his home on Thanksgiving day, is underway in Minnesota, forcing the citizens of Little Falls and all across the nation to consider some pretty tough questions.
Byron Smith, a military veteran and retired security consultant for the Department of State, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the fatal shootings of 18-year-old Haile Kifer, and her 17-year-old cousin Nick Brady on Thanksgiving Day, 2012. The double murder devastated the small town of Little Falls, Minn. and has stirred debate nationwide about how far a man can go in defending his home.
Prosecutors have opened their case with taped transcripts from Smith, in his initial interviews with police. So far, the evidence paints a picture of a man who was driven, either from fear or some need for revenge, to lie in wait and commit two cold-blooded and calculated executions on a pair of unarmed kids.
Smith spent the better part of that Thanksgiving day sitting in his basement with a paperback and several bottles of water. He said he got "seriously stressed" when he heard someone rattle the door handles to his house and saw a shadow through a picture window.
Soon, an upstairs window broke. Smith heard someone walking around upstairs. He grabbed his gun and waited at the base of the stairs. When the intruder descended, Smith saw feet, legs, then hips. Bryon took aim, and fired twice. The prowler tumbled down the steps and landed face up. Smith could see it was a young man.
Then, Smith told investigators, "I shot him in the face. I want(ed) him dead." Byron put the bullet-ridden corpse on a tarp and dragged it all the way down into his workshop, to keep blood from staining his basement carpet.
Byron Smith reloaded his rifle. The blood was pounding in his ears as he heard more footsteps upstairs.
The next intruder, wearing a black hoodie tightly pulled over her face, was halfway down the steps when Smith opened fire. She collapsed down the last flight into Smith's basement.
"My thinking was, I'm not going to ask if there's a gun," he said. He pulled the trigger to shoot her again, but the gun clicked in a misfire. According to Smith, she laughed at him. So, he pulled out another gun and fired several more rounds into her inert body.
"Yes, I fired more shots than I needed to," Smith told police, adding that he was feeling threatened and "I was no longer willing to live in fear."
Once the teenage girl stopped moving, he dragged her by her clothes and into the workshop, too. There, he said, he noticed she was still gasping for air. According to Smith, he didn't believe she should suffer.
So, Byron Smith shot the 18 year old girl once again: "a good clean finishing shot," he said. "She gave out the death twitch."
After their bodies were discovered, police found stolen prescription drugs while searching the personal effects of both teens. Court documents have linked both Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady to burglaries at several Little Falls residences, including Byron Smith's own house.
[Image courtesy of Jason Wachter/St. Cloud Times/AP]