Byron Smith murder case: Was he under threat of great harm when he shot teenagers?

kifer smith brady.jpg
Smith did himself no favors with the "good, clean finishing shot" statement he gave police.
Byron Smith faces two charges of second-degree murder in connection with the killings of teenagers Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady, both of whom were shot to death on Thanksgiving after they apparently broke into Smith's home.

SEE ALSO: MNGOP Rep. Tony Cornish, author of "deadly force" bill, thinks Byron Smith is a murderer

Smith seemed to convict himself in a statement he gave to police after the teens' dead bodies were discovered in his home the next day. He said that after shooting Brady, he looked at him on the floor and thought to himself, "I want him dead," then fatally shot him in the face. Later, after Kifer was shot repeatedly in the chest and lay gasping for air, Smith told police he killed her with a "good, clean finishing shot" under the chin. Seems like a cut-and-dried case of murder, right? Not so fast.

A piece in Minnesota Lawyer looks at what a defense attorney will have to demonstrate in order to exonerate Smith. In short, in Minnesota, killing an intruder is lawful if it happens in the course of trying to prevent that intruder from committing a felony in your home or if you reasonably feel you're at risk for great bodily harm. And since Kifer and Brady had broken into Smith's house, there's a case to be made that the first shots Smith fired prevented a burglary from occurring and therefore were legally permissible. But what about the subsequent kill shots?

From Minnesota Lawyer's report:
The first shots were OK, but his right to defend himself did not allow him to continue shooting, said Minneapolis defense attorney Joe Friedberg. He said prosecutors will likely argue that after Smith fired the first shots he was then responsible to pick up the phone and dial 911. He didn't need to continue shooting.

"The prosecution will say that after these kids are lying on the ground bleeding, he had no reason to fear for his life anymore and they certainly weren't going to be committing a felony," Friedberg said. "It's the 'finishing off' comment he made to police. That's where he runs into problems [with the self-defense argument.]"

If he would have called police after shooting the two teenagers the first time, Smith would likely be a free man instead of sitting in jail facing charges of second-degree murder, Friedberg said.
In sum, Smith did himself no favors with the chilling statement he gave to police in the wake of the shootings. But Minneapolis defense attorney Brock Hunter told Minnesota Lawyer that Smith might be able to build a defense around the bizarre, possibly drug-influenced behavior of the teens.

According to Smith's version of events, when his gun jammed, Kifer laughed at him. She'd already been shot at least once. That's certainly a strange way to behave as your life is slipping away. Furthermore, the teens have been linked to another Little Falls burglary that occurred just days before Thanksgiving. They were apparently after prescription drugs, and Brady's sister speculated that pills were probably what Brady and Kifer were after in breaking into Smith's home.

Furthermore, Smith claims his home has been burglarized eight times in recent years.

More from the Minnesota Lawyer piece:
"He was in the basement when they broke in; that is about as justifiable of a position in your home as you can ask for," said Hunter.

Smith told police that when he shot the girl she started to laugh at him. Hunter said it is "beyond strange why anyone would be laughing in that situation."

"The defense could say that someone in that position could have been on edge and in fear. The behavior of the teenagers was so brazen and so unusual it would arguably scare anyone. Those things will all work in favor of the defense," he said.
Was Smith sufficiently "on edge" and "in fear" to reasonably believe the teens put him at risk for great bodily harm even after they'd been shot and incapacitated? It seems like a stretch, but it'll be up for a jury to decide.

As the Minnesota Lawyer notes, Smith's case would've been even more controversial had Gov. Dayton not vetoed the MNGOP-pushed Defense of Dwelling and Person act last spring. Rather than requiring Smith to demonstrate it was reasonable to believe he was at risk for great harm, that law would've placed the burden on prosecutors to prove Smith wasn't acting in self-defense when he used deadly force.


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57 comments
jessholk450
jessholk450

well I can tell the northerners I am Texan and pro gun this dude is a trained killer shit im not afraid of two scrawny drug addicts he is a murderer and deserves to die for what he did I mean look at the nutjob he looks like a timothy mcviegh wannabe its a damn shame this didn't happen here he would get the needle and we  have a shortage on the poison so theyre trying new more painful toxins hell we texans love executing freaks im sure if yall asked rick perry kindly enough or just mention we get to kill him im sure hell send chuck Norris to get him

kateolson3
kateolson3

After hearing the actual tape of this sad case today, I am SHOCKED the man got bail reduced and is out (terrible judge probably golfs with Trashmesher).   He EXECUTED  these kids.  She was not laughing she knew she was dying (he kept telling her) and she said OMG, poor dear, if I am on this jury (PLEASE LORD CALL ME) this man and his creepy attorney will not prevail and I will make sure he DIES IN THE CELL with lots of new buddies!!! I have no sympathy for him; breaking into ones' home is one thing; yes, he had a right to defend, however, when they were down to have them LOOK IN HIS EYES, and then he tells them "YOU ARE DYING!"  Wow, real normal guy here, defending himself against two near dead kids.  Oh, by the way when he jammed the gun after shooting the young girl he said "sorry about that" and grabbed another  giving her 3 more shots!  If  anyone including Mr. Trashmesher or excuse me, Meshbesher, thinks this is not murder may you burn in Hell.  No religion on Earth wood condone this, so sad I couldn't listen to the whole story on tv....oh, did we forget not calling the police? 

Dave2
Dave2

Michelle Bachmann: How come  you know what I don't know about this but I don't know what you appparently know? Are you getting information from the great beyond? If so, perhaps you could enlighten the county attorney as to wether he should prosecute or not.

June
June

Firstly, if the first shot is acceptable to kill an intruder, who cares if the kill shot is lawful?  The fact is the law should be examining was the first shot lawful.  If it was, then case closed.  It's pretty easy to justify lethal force, and if so, the blame should be placed on the parents for raising kids who are criminals and drug addicts.  Whether the kill shot was inhumane or not, to me, is a worthless argument.  If the burglars were killed with the first shots, the end result would be the same.

Dave2
Dave2

Sorry if you’re related to Brady but it doesn’t exonerate him, he, and his cousin, were still a scumbags. They weren’t in Smiths house to wish him a Merry Christmas. And I didn’t say that Smith didn’t murder the two of them, I said so in my first sentence. But what was revolting to me was that there were 400 mourners at their funeral. The morbidity of that crowd was about as weird as it gets; probably the same types who would go witness an execution. The two of them should have been planted as innocuously as possible, they were just hoodlums. Defending them because you're related to them is understandable but not deserving of sympathy.

Aymee Williams
Aymee Williams

I have a 9 1/2 month old baby, && let someone break into my house, i'm going to shoot to kill!

Michael Flowers
Michael Flowers

Once they were shot, he finished them off with additional shots to the head. Shooting to kill, in this case to execute, is murder. Had he only shot till the threat to him was gone, he'd be in the clear. Once he did it, delaying the 911 call was done because he felt guilty. Sure, he could claim confusion, and likely get away with it, had the bodies not had kill shots. But those kill shots will hang him.

Erin Munn
Erin Munn

It wasn't his responsubility to 'only shoot them once'- it was their responsibility NOT to break into his freakin house! That being said, I do not agree with his actions after he shot them. He should have called 911.

Joel O'Brien
Joel O'Brien

He took it too far and should have called police after, but the kids aren't victims. They would be alive if they weren't victimizing others.

Blaine Garrett
Blaine Garrett

This case is so bizarre. However, as the article states, the burden of proof is now on the defense rather than the prosecution. i.e. The defense has to prove that he was acting in self-defense in shooting again. The hard part for me with the way the law works is that as the victim of the burglary, you basically need to have the stain of mind in the moment to not cross the legal line of acceptable of force. Likewise, unless the robbery victim is trained in the area (cop, military etc), I can't imagine them keeping their calm after shooting someone. Although, I think I would call 911 right away instead of letting the robber hangout Weekend at Bernie's style in my basement for a whole day. Yeah, really, why were the bodies down stairs? It sounds like he was down stairs when they broke in. Was he waiting in defense for them down there or did he run up stairs and confront them and drag them downstairs. This sounds odd. @Jeff, what was his former occupation? All I read was "State Department" employee.

Jessi Brennan
Jessi Brennan

I still think he's lying about the whole story. I think he's a crazy killer that set the whole thing up to look like his house was broken into. Nothing adds up in his crazy story. No reasonable adult would act the way he did. No other witnesses. Psych eval, please.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone topcommenter

Look at what Byron Smith did.

He has a walk-out basement; he wasn't cornered just because he was downstairs.

He didn't call police the next day; he called his brother the same day, who flew here from Baltimore Maryland where his brother had been having Thanksgiving with his family.  In the interim, on Thanksgiving there were heavy winds, and rain which turned to snow.  By waiting for his brother to arrive, apparently on Thursday, all outdoor forensic evidence of someone breaking in - if there was any - are obliterated.  Presumably, any window that was broken was repaired in that interval or otherwise altered, so no one will ever really know if the two kids broke in or not. For all we know, Smith broke the window, after shooting the kids, to give himself an excuse to use in his defense.

THEN, instead of calling the sheriff himself, he calls a neighbor and asks the neighbor to call the sheriff, and at least from what I've read, didn't give details.  My understanding is the sheriff was told on the doorstep that he had shot the two teens. 

It is distinctly odd that someone would leave two kids dead in the basement for that long before calling someone.  Well, he did call someone - his brother was there before the sheriff arrived.  His brother's explanation was that his brother, whom he describes as a very smart man, didn't know what to do after shooting someone.  Really? Smith worked in security for how many decades, but didn't know killing someone should involve law enforcement promptly ------AND the brother didn't know that either? It is ridiculous to assume NEITHER of them knew it was important to phone law enforcement.

The reason given for not calling law enforcement was that Smith didn't want to spoil anyone's Thanksgiving.  Except apparently his brother's Thanksgiving on the east coast, that was an ok holiday celebration to interrupt.

And we're supposed to believe that someone who has been shot, who presumably saw the blood on the walls and ceiling and steps of the stairway to the basement, and who had been shot in the chest was laughing?  People who shoot other people that many times, reloading and changing guns, are like someone who stabs a person 100 times or more - it is an act of anger, or some other kind of strong passion.  

Given the recent story about the prosecutor hooking up with the 16-17 year old, who was shot by another older guy going after younger girls, I don't think we should believe anything Smith says, and should rely only on the actual evidence.  Because Smith's story makes more sense if he had some reason other than breaking in to be angry, either because he was jealous, or because he couldn't control a young woman, or because he felt betrayed.  But as behavior towards a stranger, it makes no sense whatsoever.  One shot, yes; the rest, NO.

Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

Of course not, that's why he's being charged with Second degree Murder.

Bob Alberti
Bob Alberti

For me the crucial moment is the killing of the second teen. My completely imaginary scenario is that the boy went down the stairs, was shot, and fell. The girl heard him fall down the stairs... and I suspect she called out. This is where I think Smith is going to be in trouble. When he was hiding in his basement from the first intruder, he was under no obligation to reveal his location and risk being targeted. However, after the first shooting his presence was no longer secret. When the girl called out Smith would not have been revealing himself to have called out a warning. He had already fired a weapon, he had revealed his position. When the girl (presumably) called out, Smith switched from prey to predator. He was "laying in wait" for her. Of course this is pure speculation, and the courts will hopefully prove out what happened. But that's my suspicion.

Bob Alberti
Bob Alberti

Maybe because as human beings they were appalled.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young

You can use a firearm to defend yourself, but by the time he actually killed them, he did or should have established they were no longer a physical threat and based on his former occupation he should be held to a higher standard of determining when a threat has been ended, and he clearly did not stop at that point. A previous history of break-ins does not give him carte blanche to disregard this principle.

Patrick Murphy
Patrick Murphy

I don't think "a normal sort" shoots anyone. I'd least I'd like to think not.

Нина Суворова
Нина Суворова

Hmm, I think that the law is on Mr. Smith's side. They were in his home, and he had the constitutional right to protect himself, however he saw fit. Really horrible what happened to the two young people, but again - shooting someone who is an intruder on your property is legal, so Mr. Smith should walk out clean.

Melissa Niederkorn
Melissa Niederkorn

It's not doing the community any favors showing the smiley photos of those two kids...they were on drugs and committing pretty serious crimes - and got killed because they picked the wrong house. One should completely be allowed to defend their property and themselves in their own home, but I think a normal sort would've shot them, disabled them from being a threat, and then called the police. Two wrongs don't make a right. Unfortunately not calling the police and keeping the bodies and other things that this guy has reportedly said IMO...just whoa. Something is NOT right there - people with a normal mental state don't act that way.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@Dave2 Because I'm using information from the story.  He didn't call the cops for 24 hours.    According to the Byron he shot the girl because she laughed at him. Not because she was a danger but because she laughed.  That's murder.  The cops are on my side stupid.  You are the nutjob standing with the murderer. 

hollisterpatricia
hollisterpatricia

So you ( and obviously thousands of others) think the Castle Doctrine is mainly a law that proclaims your right to KILL , not really. When my son was murdered 3 yrs ago I researched the castle doctrine. It was intended to provide an individual the right to stop an intruder from harming lives within one's home, without being prosecuted if indeed, one's actions resulted in the death of the intruder. It wasn't intended to be a free pass to kill , although that's what it's becoming more with each year and each incident. The burden of proof no longer exists to prove you were being threatened with great bodily harm. I want everyone to know the law could easily be used against you in your brother-in-laws house, for example. You don't have to be an unknown, or intruder to find yourself on the unjust end of the law. After my son was shot just within the doorway of his ex-gfs house, bullet to his throat, we were told that it would be ruled castle doctrine self defense( it ultimately was not, thanks to invest. Detective who acknowledged that they realized it "t wasn't self defense, but there's no way to fight the castle doctrine" My daughter asked if she invited the killer(s) to her home and killed her/him, and with the corroboration of her story by her husband, she could get away with it as self defense. The Asst.DA said yes even tho she brought about your brothers death. So friends take your chances praising the castle doctrine, it may work againstyou some lucky day. Then you'll know bitterness.

kateolson3
kateolson3

This was MURDER and I hope the old man ROTS in hell! (By ANY religion he will.) What the heck is "first" or the "kill shot"  when you EXECUTE that is murder; doesn't take a expert to know that.....he is obviously a mental case; looks like a crazy nut to me....

kateolson3
kateolson3

Spoken like a real cold hearted  gun nut like the rest of the pro gun people. 

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@Dave2 You have no idea what happened stupid.   That's why Byron Smith is in trouble.  He shot two people and then didn't call the cops for 24 hours.  The cops couldn't do a proper investigation since Byron Smith waited so long.  All we do know is his story in which he admits to delivering kill shots on wounded unarmed people because he was mad and she was laughing at him.  That's murder.  

kateolson3
kateolson3

I would defend myself too, if someone was breaking in my home too, (although I have no gun and do not believe in guns) however, I would not continue once down to execute and  then not call the police, wow real normal guy.  Guns kill enough said.

June
June

@Michael Flowers - But what if they were carrying weapons, they could have had a gun, and thus a kill shot would have been preventative?  What if these were gang bangers, would you fire a kill shot knowing that they might have weapons?  The guy does not help himself with his comments, but what do you expect when you have been the victim of crime so much?

kateolson3
kateolson3

When he had them DOWN, then you logically call the authorities and they would have (if lived after first shots), been taken into custody and maybe received some help with any potential issues (like drugs).  Mr. ol' Crazyman would have been able to resume his life....however, those final shots/not calling police; show he was NOT normal, it was murder, and he should pay dearly...LIFE,  if I were lucky enough to be on that jury! 

kateolson3
kateolson3

They were wrong to break in; did you or your kids ever do anything dumb when young?  However, after the first shots and in broad daylight he could see no weapon, and to follow up when they were down and NOT call the police what a nutcase!

June
June

@Joel O'Brien - We say he took it too far, but what if the kids was a gang banger and pulled out a gun and fired back as they lay there half shot?  to me, once you have rationalized the use of deadly force, the end result is the same.

kateolson3
kateolson3

I think it is fishy and hope the truth comes out; I think he is plain crazy and no one can defend him NOT calling the police...

June
June

@Jessi Brennan - Well he's got too drug addict burglars off the street - so we have a lot to thank him for.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@Dog Gone Not calling 911 proves it was murder as far as I'm concerned.  If Mr. Smith wasn't smart enough to call 911 he wasn't smart enough to own and use a gun.   Owning a gun requires you be sane and responsible.  Mr. Smith has shown he was neither of those things.   At minimum he killed two teens that were no threat to him because he was mad.  That is murder.   

June
June

@Bob Alberti - There is a lesson here for all drugged up burglars.  Don't break in to houses.

kateolson3
kateolson3

Many and the killer (oh excuse me, victim ha) looks like one.

kateolson3
kateolson3

No way, he will die in a cell after hearing the tape today and oh, those new friends, lucky guy!

kateolson3
kateolson3

The tape release today settles it, she was NOT laughing saying "OMG!" so sad may he pay dearly...

hollisterpatricia
hollisterpatricia

To michelle, The worst truth about the use of the castle doctrine at this time is thatban investigation isn't necessary if the police, detective and Asst. DA deems that the shooter has a reasonable story. No arrest at all. This is happening more frequently in the past few years. Keep in mind Zimmerman was not even going to be arrested or investigated. I know of two other cases within my town where arrest was not even made, no investigation.

kateolson3
kateolson3

Come on, read the news and listen to the ACTUAL tape today released, he was a nut case and they were murdered!!!

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@June @Michael Flowers The guy didn't call 911 for 24 hours.  They start teaching children about 911 in kindergarten for crying out loud.   If he isn't smart enough to responsibly use a gun he should not have one.  It's pretty simple to understand.  He admits to shooting a wounded 17 year old girl because she laughed at him.  That's murder. 

kateolson3
kateolson3

If you think he deserves thanks you are mental too!!  Cruel!

Dave2
Dave2

Yes, what Smith did was certainly murder. But if these two hoodlums had not illegally entered Smiths house in the first place he would not have shot them. They not only effected the end of their own lives they certainly ended any kind of future for Smith also, who had no criminal record. What amazes me is why the media has lionized these two scumbags to the point where 400 people showed up at their funeral.

kateolson3
kateolson3

And watch for a crazy ol man with a gun! 

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@June  You are a stupid and heartless person.  Those teens didn't deserve to die for their mistakes.   You are heartless and cruel.     Those dead kids have friends and families and now they are dead.  They didn't deserve to die because of a mistake. 

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@jenjoyner  Sorry about your loss.  Those kids were doing the wrong thing but they didn't deserve what happened to them.  They needed to be punished in a reasonable way so later in life they can contribute to society and the endless cycle of crime and violence can end.  We live in a civilized society of laws.  Those children should have paid for their crimes in a courtroom not on a basement floor.  

jenjoyner
jenjoyner

@Dave2 So you honestly believe that he had a right to kill?  I am related to Nicholas Brady and for you to refer to him as a scumbag shows how simple minded you are!!  No sir Byron Smith altered his life path all on his own he had a choice and he chose MURDER!!  He had other options.  How do you know for sure they broke in?  They are gone!!  They don't have the opportunity to tell there side of the story!!  Hmmmm convenient!!  I hope for you sir that you never have a family member who makes bad choices in life and for that someone plays judge, jury and executioner for them and then you have to read ignorant comments like the one you left!!!

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