US homeowner charged in teen shootings

2012-11-27 14:05
Byron David Smith. (Morrison County Sheriff's Office/ AP)

Byron David Smith. (Morrison County Sheriff's Office/ AP)

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Little Falls — A Minnesota homeowner who shot two unarmed teenagers in the midst of an apparent Thanksgiving Day break-in told authorities he feared they had a weapon, but acknowledged firing "more shots than I needed to" and appeared to take pride in "a good clean finishing shot" for one teen, according to investigators.

Byron David Smith, aged 64, was charged on Monday with two counts of second-degree murder in a criminal complaint that was chilling for the clinical way investigators said he described the shootings.

Smith told investigators he shot 18-year-old Haile Kifer several times last Thursday as she descended a stairway into his basement, and his Mini 14 rifle jammed as he tried to shoot her again after she had tumbled down the steps.

Though Kifer was "already hurting", she let out a short laugh, Smith told investigators. He then pulled out his .22-caliber revolver and shot her several times in the chest, according to the complaint.

"If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again," Smith told investigators, according to a criminal complaint filed on Monday.

Smith was also charged in the death of Kifer's cousin, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady.

Several break-ins

Minnesota law allows a homeowner to use deadly force on an intruder if a reasonable person would fear they're in danger of harm, and Smith told investigators he was afraid the intruders might have a weapon. However, Smith's actions weren't justified, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said.

"The law doesn't permit you to execute somebody once a threat is gone," he said.

Smith told investigators he was fearful after several break-ins at his remote home in Little Falls, a central Minnesota town of 8 000 people. The sheriff's office had only one report of a break-in, on 27 October. Smith reported losing thousands of dollars in cash, gold coins, two guns, photo equipment and jewellery.

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".

In the complaint, Smith said he was in his basement when he heard a window breaking upstairs, followed by footsteps that eventually approached the basement stairwell. Smith said he fired when Brady came into view from the waist down.

After the teen fell down the stairs, Smith said he shot him in the face as he lay on the floor.

Good clean finishing shot

"I want him dead," the complaint quoted Smith telling an investigator.

Smith said he dragged Brady's body into his basement workshop, then sat down on his chair. After a few minutes, Kifer began coming down the stairs and he shot her as soon as her hips appeared, he said.

After shooting her with both the Mini 14 and the .22-caliber revolver, he dragged her next to Brady. With her still gasping for air, he fired a shot under her chin "up into the cranium", the complaint says.

"Smith described it as 'a good clean finishing shot'," according to the complaint.

The next day he asked a neighbour to recommend a good lawyer, according to the complaint. He later asked his neighbour to call the police.

A prosecutor called Smith's reaction "appalling".

Been through hell

"Mr Smith intentionally killed two teenagers in his home in a manner that goes well beyond self-defence," Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf said after Smith appeared in court on Monday morning. Bail was set at $2m.

Defence attorney Gregory Larson declined comment.

John Lange, who described himself as Smith's best friend, said Smith shouldn't be in jail.

"You have a right to defend your home," Lange 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."

Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for a range of roughly 21 to 30 years in prison for a person convicted of a single second-degree murder count.

Smith's brother, Bruce Smith, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune his brother had retired after a career as a security officer with the US State Department.

Bruce Smith declined to talk to an Associated Press reporter on 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".

- AP
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