LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota man who killed two teenagers who broke into his home can be heard on an audio recording talking to himself for hours after the shooting and at one point, apparently describing the slain teens as “vermin.”
Byron Smith, of Little Falls, faces first-degree premeditated murder charges in the deaths of 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. Smith, 65, claimed he was defending himself and feared for his life after several break-ins at his home.
Prosecutors, though, say Smith planned the killings. They say he sat in a chair in his basement and waited for the teens to enter his home, instead of calling police. Smith waited a full day after he shot them before asking a neighbor to call the authorities.
The killings stunned this central Minnesota community and stirred debate about how far people can go to defend their homes. Under Minnesota law, a person may use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one’s home or dwelling, but authorities have said Smith crossed a line when he continued to shoot the teens after they were no longer a threat.
Authorities who searched Smith’s home after the killings testified Wednesday that they found an audio recorder that was turned on and an operating video surveillance system. The recorder was sitting on top of books on a bookshelf, near a chair where prosecutors say Smith waited for the teens.
In the recording, Smith can be heard breathing heavily and whispering. At one point, he said: “I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
The recording also captured the actual shootings, including Kifer screaming after she was shot. Janet Nelson, a special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that the full recording was six hours, 24 minutes long. She condensed it into 29 minutes of highlights, enhancing volume in some areas, and cutting background noise in others.
The tape was presented to jurors as a sequence of events, but defense attorneys raised questions about the recording on cross-examination, noting it had been spliced and altered, and some key pieces of information were left out.
The recording presented in court apparently starts before the shootings, with Smith talking about having someone come over and giving instructions on where to park. Smith also is heard saying: “I realize I don’t have an appointment, but I would like to see one of the lawyers here.”
The next sound played in court was the sound of glass shattering, followed by footsteps and heavy breathing. The recorder captured the sounds of Smith shooting Brady as he came down the stairs, including a groan from Brady after the first shot. A total of three shots were fired, and Smith can be heard saying “You’re dead.”
Then, there is rustling, several more thumps, clicks, and heavy breathing. The criminal complaint says Smith placed Brady’s body on a tarp and dragged it into another room, then sat down and reloaded his weapon.
Kifer then comes down the stairs. More shots are fired, and Kifer screams. Then Smith said: “You’re dying.” Another shot was heard soon after. In a statement to investigators, Smith called it a “finishing shot.”
Then, Smith whispers: “I’m safe now,” according to the recording.
Nelson said for the next several hours, Smith can be heard talking to himself, often in whispers. He is heard repeating the request for someone to come to his house, and repeating the parking directions he apparently recited before the shootings.
He also said: “I was doing my civic duty … I had to do it.”
And he said the girl “was going to go through her life spoiling things for other people.”
More than once, he said he felt like he was cleaning up a mess “worse than spilled food. Worse than vomit, worse than” excrement. He also said he refused to live in fear.
And: “It’s all fun, cool, exciting, and highly profitable until someone kills you.”
He also said: “I’m sorry. So much regret. … I try to be a decent person. They think I’m a patsy … a sucker … there for them to take advantage of.”
Smith can be heard saying: “I left my house at 11:30. They were both dead by 1.”
Prosecutors also showed images from surveillance cameras that Smith had set up outside his home. The four different camera angles showed Smith leaving his home in his truck at 11:25 a.m. on the day of the killings, then returning on foot at 11:45.
At 12:33 p.m., Brady shows up in a hooded, camouflage jacket, looking in the door, looking in a window, trying to open the door, and walking around Smith’s house. At one point, Brady spots a camera, and points at it.
At 12:38, Kifer can be seen in trees in the distance, Nelson testified. When Kifer later comes into view, she is carrying a large purse, and wearing a hoodie pulled around her face. She appears to be on a cellphone, Nelson testified.
During cross examination, defense attorney Adam Johnson noted it’s not clear from the video whether either teen was carrying a gun. Neither teen was armed, but Smith has said he feared they were.
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