Minnesota Homeowner Convicted of Murder For Shooting Home Intruders

Minnesota Homeowner Convicted of Murder For Shooting Home Intruders

A Minnesota man who had experienced multiple break-ins at his home was convicted of first and second degree murder Tuesday after he shot the two unarmed teenagers who had broken into his home. Byron Smith, a 65-year-old man who retired from setting up security for American embassies for the U.S. State Department, only waited three hours for the jury to come back with a guilty verdict.  This story, however, is not as simple as it seems…or is it?

The two teens, Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, had broken into Smith’s home and garage on at least one other occasion—Smith had lost weapons in the burglary a month prior.  They had also broken into other homes as well; not only were they linked to another burglary, but their car was found to have stolen prescription drugs in it.  This time, Smith decided, they weren’t going to get away with it again.  He set up a surveillance system on his house to record video, set an audio recorder on a bookshelf in his basement, and then settled into a chair with a book, some snacks and water, and some guns.

Sure enough, his surveillance system caught Brady trying to get into the house.

The audio, which was played several times in court, captured the sound of glass shattering, Brady descending the basement stairs and Smith shooting Brady three times. Smith can be heard saying, “You’re dead.” Prosecutors said Smith put Brady’s body on a tarp and dragged him into another room, then sat down, reloaded his weapon and waited.

About 10 minutes later, Kifer came downstairs. More shots are heard on the recording as Kifer screams. Smith says, “You’re dying,” followed soon by the sound of another gunshot, which investigators said Smith described as “a good, clean finishing shot.”

Apparently later on the recording, Smith refers to the two would-be burglars as “vermin.”  He also waited a full day before asking a neighbor to call the police.

What’s interesting in this case is that the judge didn’t allow the jury to hear any of the evidence of the teens’ history: their previous break-ins both at Smith’s and others, the drugs in the car; none of it was allowed.  All the jury heard was that a mean guy set up two poor teenagers in an ambush.  They did, however, get to hear how the teens were athletes and cousins and “beautiful” and on and on.

Had I been on the jury, I would not have voted to convict.  I may not agree with every single facet of what he did, but I also don’t believe he’s guilty of murder.  Had those two kids stayed out of a house that wasn’t theirs, they’d be alive.  It’s that simple.  I do not fault for one second the actions of a homeowner who decided to put a stop to the intrusions once and for all.  You don’t burglarize other people’s homes; if you do, then you deserve what happens as a result of that decision.  That audio caught the sounds of breaking glass—that means forced entry.  The kid didn’t walk through an open door, he didn’t “accidentally” walk into the wrong house.  He had absolutely no reason to be there, and he had to break in to get in—which means he knew he wasn’t supposed to be there.  He had no possible cause for expecting that his presence was welcome.  He’d been there before, violating Smith’s private home.  Can you honestly blame Smith for handling the problem?

I think it’s a bit weird that Smith waited a day to call the cops; if I shot an intruder in my home, I’d call to let them know I wanted the body picked up at least.  I’m sure there are folks who will argue that Smith was not in imminent danger of harm, but what if he hadn’t expected them to come back?  What if he’d have been in his bed asleep when they broke in?  What if he had been in the shower, or just sitting on the couch watching TV?  The only real thing that is different in this case is that this time, the homeowner had the advantage of surprise instead of the other way around.  Why does that make him a criminal?  Should he have yelled and screamed at them?  Shot a shotgun out on the front porch Biden-style?  Asked them nicely to please leave…so they could come back again a third time?

How much is a homeowner expected to take?

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  • JPD says:

    I agree with your points. However. the guy is an idiot. To be caught on tape calling them “vermin”, or comments to police “good, clean, finishing shot”. Also, the point you raised, waiting to call police.

    In today’s climate, it takes 2 brain cells to realize you have to play the game. Keep your mouth shut (especially when you have the recorders running, duh!!) Play the put upon victim…”Oh gee officer, they came at me with that tire iron, I had no choice!”

    It is easy to see how he was played the bad guy, and to a degree, he was.

  • Robin H says:

    Wow. Without knowing the kids real background I’m not sure I would have come to a different conclusion. But knowing that the kids had stolen guns and had broken into multiple houses puts a whole new light on the homeowner’s actions.

  • Xavier says:

    I’ve been burglarized so many times I can’t even remember them all. It’s terrible to come home and realize someone has been in your house going through your stuff. You want revenge, and I understand Smith’s frame of mind. I’ve waited, armed in the dark, just like Smith did but the intruders never came back. I know I would have killed them without remorse, but I certainly would have been smarter about it than Smith was.

    A couple summers ago, we had a rash of burglaries in our rural area. I was interviewed by the State Police since we had been the first to discover a neighbor’s house that had been ransacked, and in the course of that conversation he told us exactly what our rights were, what self defense measures we could legally take, and what to say to avoid being charged with a crime as a result of shooting an intruder.

    Since every state is different, there’s no point in listing most of his advice here. One thing he was adamant about was trying to save or resuscitate the intruder, and not hanging up after calling 911 so your actions and words can be recorded. I would urge anyone who is prepared to defend their home to speak with local law enforcement to determine when deadly force is acceptable in your area. As much as you may want to take out the “vermin”, it’s probably not worth your freedom.

  • Dejah Thoris says:

    Super awesome that two oxygen thieves have departed the planet for parts unknown.

    Sad to hear that he recorded the audio, because that, combined with the other circumstances, is what likely guaranteed his conviction.

    If he would have just called the police to report he shot two home invaders, he could have waited just long enough to let the two dirtbags breathe one last time, and then call 911.

    Then, the only story that gets told is his.

  • Dana says:

    Had he been in a state with a “castle doctrine” law, the outcome might have been different. Moving the first body and then waiting for the second burglar really pushed the line here: had he called the police after the first burglar was shot, he’d have been OK, even if the second one entered, and was shot, while he was waiting on the police to arrive.

    He should have forced the burglars to lay down, and held them at gunpoint until the police arrived.

    • GWB says:

      Had he been in a state with a “castle doctrine” law, the outcome might have been different.

      Not necessarily. All the other elements make this problematic even for “castle doctrine” defense.

      Moving the first body and then waiting for the second burglar really pushed the line here

      Yes, it more than “pushed the line”. This (along with other bits) makes it an ambush, and is one of the stupidest things he could do. Because it shows premeditation. Premeditation will nail you in a court of law. Every bit of self-defense advice I’ve ever seen related to firearms is to avoid things that show ‘premeditation’. (Premeditation removes the self-defense defense, generally.)

      He should have forced the burglars to lay down, and held them at gunpoint until the police arrived.

      Bullhockey. He should have shot them. But he should NOT have moved bodies, or recorded himself (if he can’t refrain from stupid comments). [You do not draw a firearm in order to apprehend someone, you draw a firearm in order to shoot someone. Period. And, you don’t wait for a threat to materialize before neutralizing it.]

      • Leanne says:

        Of course it shows pre-meditation! I think about the fact that someone could break into my home uninvited! I think about the fact I keep a loaded gun at my bedside to stop that intruder. IF I didn’t THINK about it, that would be wreckless use of a firearm. And, lest we forget, we have the right to bear arms and protect our homes and loved ones. Who cares he moved the body anywhere WITHIN the home. They were inside and had broken in. Plain and simple. Clouding the issue with all the fuzzies anyone wants to add, in court or out, only creates more fuzzies…and our governmental justice system does not need that. Read the letter of the law.

  • Leanne says:

    This is just totally absurd. That judge AND jury ought to be charged not following the letter of the law. Regardless of what the defense attorney painted as a picture of two perfect teens. They were criminals. They were inside the mans home. They had prior history and prior evidence. It is of no matter that the man was laying in wait in his basement. Would it have been any different if he slept with a loaded fun at his bedside? No. In fact, he gave those criminals the best chance they had, by being so far removed from the normal lived in area of the home. And, shame on you defense attorney for not carrying out your oath to follow the law!

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