Listen MPR's Tom Robertson discusses the incident of a Minn. man charged with second degree murder for the deaths of two teens
A Minnesota man faces second-degree murder charges for the Thanksgiving Day shooting deaths of two teenage cousins.
Byron David Smith, 64, said the young people broke into his home. Smith told investigators he shot Nicholas Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, as they came downstairs into his basement workshop.
According to the complaint, Smith told investigators he was sitting in his basement at around noon on Thanksgiving when he heard a window breaking and then footsteps upstairs.
Bob Collins has posted video of authorities doing a play-by-play recounting of the incident on his News Cut blog.
Smith stated that he shot the first victim, Brady, as he was walking down the stairs. He told investigators he used a Mini 14 rifle and fired several initial shots and then after Brady fell down the stairs, he shot him in the face.
"I want him dead," the complaint quoted Smith telling an investigator.
The complaint said Smith put Brady's body on a tarp and dragged him into a basement workshop. Smith stated that several minutes later, the second victim, Kifer, came down the stairs and he shot her as well. Smith told investigators that he was going to shoot her again, but his gun jammed.
Smith said Kifer laughed at him, and he pulled out his .22 caliber revolver and shot her several times in the chest.
"If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again," Smith told investigators, according to the criminal complaint.
He stated that he then dragged her body into the workshop, but Kifer was still gasping for air. He told investigators that he then placed the handgun under her chin and shot her in the head.
"Smith described it as 'a good clean finishing shot,"' according to the complaint.
SHERIFF: MORE THAN SELF PROTECTION
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel acknowledged that Minnesota law allows homeowners to use reasonable force to protect themselves against intruders using reasonable conduct — even deadly force if necessary. But the sheriff said Smith's actions went beyond reasonable force.
"The law doesn't permit you to execute someone once the threat is gone and there is no possible way the crime can continue. The law also requires you notify law enforcement and attempt to render aid where possible," Wetzel said.
In the courtroom this morning, County Attorney Brian Middendorf called the shooting of the two teens "cold-blooded murder."
"Mr. Smith intentionally killed two teenagers in his home in a matter that goes well beyond self-defense," Middendorf said after Smith appeared in court.
Wetzel said that while the shootings happened on Thursday, Smith waited until Friday to report the deaths, explaining that "he didn't want to trouble us on a holiday."
Smith told investigators he was fearful after several break-ins at his remote home about 10 miles south of Little Falls, a central Minnesota town of 8,000 people. The sheriff's office had only one report of a break-in, on Oct. 27. Smith reported losing thousands of dollars in cash, gold coins, two guns, photo equipment and jewelry.
The next day he asked a neighbor to recommend a good lawyer, according to the complaint. He later asked his neighbor to call the police. When Sheriff's deputies arrived, Smith led them to the bodies in his basement.
A prosecutor called Smith's reaction "appalling."
Smith is being held on $2 million unconditional bail, or a $1 million with conditions that Smith surrender his passport and that he agrees to stay in Minnesota and stay away from the victim's families.
No date has been set for Smith's next court appearance. Defense Attorney Greg Larson said he'll need more time with his client to come up with a defense strategy.
LITTLE FALLS IN SHOCK
People in town are shaken up about the killings. About 200 people attended a vigil at Little Falls High School last night. One woman who has kids about the same age as the victims said that many people in town are sickened by the incident.
John Lang, who described himself as Smith's best friend, said Smith shouldn't be in jail.
"You have a right to defend your home," Lang said. "He's been through hell."
But Liberty Nunn, a Little Falls resident who said she knew Nicholas Brady's older sister, said Smith could have simply shouted at them to stop. She said she hopes Smith goes to prison "for a very, very long time."
"Those are two young lives that were taken," she said. "It's just not right."
Smith's brother, Bruce Smith, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune his brother had retired after a career as a security officer with the U.S. State Department. Bruce Smith declined to talk to an Associated Press reporter Monday outside his brother's home. A makeshift barricade blocked the driveway and a board leaning against it bore the spray-painted words "Keep Out."
Brady's sister, Crystal Schaeffel, told the Star Tribune that Kifer had stolen prescription drugs from her home before. Little Falls police records show Crystal Schaeffel reported a theft Aug. 28, but the department said the report was not public because that investigation was continuing and because it named juveniles.