LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — A 64-year-old Little Falls man is appearing in court Monday on charges he killed two teenagers who allegedly broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day.
Byron Smith already has admitted to shooting and killing 17-year-old Nicholas Brady and his 18-year-old cousin Haile Kifer on Thanksgiving Day. The criminal complaint filed in Morrison County says that Smith told officers he shot the two after hearing them break into his residence.
“He heard footsteps, fired the rifle once he saw the hips,” said Sheriff Michel Wetzel, of Morrison County. “Then he fired more shots at point-blank range.”
The complaint says that Smith told officers he “fired more shots than I needed to.” He shot Brady multiple times after seeing him walking down the stairs into the basement before shooting him again in the face.
“I want(ed) him dead,” he told police.
A few minutes later, according to the complaint, Kifer came down into the basement and he shot her as well until she fell down the stairs. He said he tried to shoot her again, and when his Mini 14 rifle jammed, she laughed at him. He said this made him upset.
“If you’re trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again,” he told police. He said he shot her multiple times in the chest with a .22-caliber revolver.
He dragged both of them on tarps into his office workshop, the charges state. Kifer was still breathing so he admitted to shooting her once again under the chin and up into her skull. He told authorities he wanted to end her suffering with “a good clean finishing shot.”
Kifer’s and Brady’s friends came to the hearing on Monday.
“That’s definitely murder,” said Liberty Nunn, a friend. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Friends of Smith were at the hearing, as well.
“His house has been broken into six times,” said John Lange. “They’ve been torturing the guy.
Smith told police he left the bodies in his house overnight and didn’t call authorities. He said he did try to have a neighbor contact a lawyer, but then asked that neighbor to contact law enforcement officials only after the neighbor was unable to help find a lawyer.
The sheriff acknowledged it’s a controversial case because of a Minnesotan’s right to use deadly force, if necessary, inside a home under certain threatening conditions. Smith told investigators he was afraid the intruders might have a weapon.
“We know that right exists,” Wetzel said. “What happened in this case went further than that. It doesn’t permit you to execute somebody once the threat is gone. And there is no possible way the crime can continue.”
At a news conference Monday, the attorney for Morrison County, Brian Middendorf, urged people not to rush to judgment in the case.
Smith, he said, deserves a fair trial.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Criminal Complaint (.PDF)
WCCO spoke with a criminal defense attorney about how this case may unfold.
Criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino — who’s not involved in this case — says Minnesota law recognizes a citizen’s right to protect their property, even shooting intruders. But he says Smith will have to explain why he didn’t call authorities right away.
“You’ve got to give an explanation as to why would you sit in your house with two dead bodies (for 24 hours). I mean, that’s something that people are going to wonder about.”
Smith has no criminal history, but neighbors have described Smith as a loner who enjoyed shooting guns, even to the point of scaring the neighborhood.
But another one of his neighbors and friends said Smith had become fearful for his safety lately. Lange said Smith’s home had been broken into twice before this latest incident.
“I don’t think that’s right that he’s in jail. He was a victim. I don’t know why he waited 24 hours to call, I don’t think anybody knows. I think he just snapped and he’s so panicked and he didn’t know what to do,” Lange said. “I just hope the teenagers in the neighborhood got a good message from this — you play with fire, you’re going to get burnt.”
Smith’s brother Bruce Smith said there had been eight previous burglaries at the home in the last few years.
The only report the Morrison County sheriff’s office has for a break-in at the home was for one on Oct. 27. It shows Byron Smith reported losing cash and gold coins worth $9,200, plus two guns worth $200 each, photo equipment worth over $3,000 and a ring worth $300. The Little Falls Police Department had no other records of burglaries at the home.
Bruce Smith declined to talk to an Associated Press reporter Monday outside his brother’s home in a secluded area north of Little Falls and near the Mississippi River. A makeshift barricade blocked the driveway and a board leaning against it bore the spray-painted words “Keep Out.”
Schaeffel’s sister, Crystal Schaeffel, said 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.
Schools in Little Falls, about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis, made counselors available, though classes weren’t in session Monday. In nearby Pillager, where classes were in session, a few students sought help from school counselors and local clergy members available at the school Monday morning, said Superintendent Chuck Arns.
Bond for Smith was set at $2 million.
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