MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week marks one month since a Minnesota homeowner went to prison for killing two unarmed teenage burglars.
Byron Smith is serving life behind bars for shooting Nick Brady and Haile Kifer. The two cousins broke into his home in Little Falls on Thanksgiving 2012. Smith said it was self-defense, but a jury decided it was murder.
Since that verdict, Smith has been writing letters from prison to his best friend, John Lange. He lives a couple of blocks from where Smith’s house sits on Elm Street.
About seven years ago, the neighbors met and became best friends. After the killings, Smith moved in with Lange and his family as he awaited trial.
It’s not clear what will become of Smith’s property. Lange says for Smith, prison was never a consideration.
“Every time I tried talking to him about what happens if it goes south, he’d shut me off,” Lange said.
Smith and Lange had plenty of time to discuss things while they were housemates for 16 months.
“I’ll never forget one day we were walking back down the road, down his road and we’re carrying a bunch of stuff to my place and he just fell down on the road and started crying, and I said, ‘Byron, what’s the matter?’ and he looked back at his house and he just started crying, he said, ‘I can’t even live in own my house anymore, I can’t even live in my own house anymore,” he said.
Lange says Smith was an ideal houseguest.
“Everything he does is perfect,” he said. “You open his drawers, all his socks are perfect.”
He says Smith was organized, thoughtful and often bought the family dinner and gifts for Lange’s teenage son. Lange says the retired world-traveling surveillance expert never married, but spoke about once having a girlfriend in China.
“All’s he wanted was peace and quiet, live on the river, fix up his mom and dad’s place,” he said. “He didn’t want none of this crap.”
Lange says Smith killed the two teenagers because he had reached a breaking point after his house was broken into again and again. The day after the killings, Smith told a deputy he felt bullied, and had endured bullying in grade school.
“I guess that must have affected him through his adult life,” Lange said.
He says the letters Smith has been writing him from prison suggest he’s getting a different type of attention now.
“He’s getting a lot of respect, even from the bad guys in prison,” Lange said. “He’s got total respect.”
This is quite a contrast from the man the jury saw, who had recorded audio of the break-in. In one recording, he mumbles to himself, “I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
Lange says the recordings don’t give him chills.
“They got every bit what they deserved. I won’t back down on that either. They shouldn’t have been in his house,” Lange said.
After convicting him, several jury members cried. Lange says sometimes in the night, Smith would, too.
“I could hear him in there crying, saying, ‘I’m so sorry this happened. I didn’t mean for this to happen, why’d it happen to me, why’d it happen to me?'” Lange said.
Two young lives were lost to a man who called their deaths his “duty.” It’s a plot that so many wish wasn’t based on a true story. Lange says he’s been contacted about making a movie about what happened.
Smith’s most recent letter to the Langes came Friday. He says he feels good about his hope of appeal. It will be up to a year before we know if that will happen.
After the verdict, one grieving relative of the teenage intruders said Smith had butchered them. In court, another had said that while Smith had lost things, while the cousins had been robbed of their lives.