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?