When does self defense become a crime? Most would agree that self defense stops being self defense once it become offensive in nature. It probably won’t come as a shock to most, then, when juries tend to take a dim view of those who finish off wounded people, even criminals.
Byron Smith, the Minnesota man who fatally shot two teens after they broke into his home, was found guilty on all four counts of murder Tuesday afternoon, CBS Minnesota reports.
The jury deliberated for three hours before finding the 65-year-old guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, reports the station.
Smith claimed he shot in self-defense and was in fear for his life after several break-ins at his Little Falls home, but during closing statements Tuesday, a prosecutor said Smith intended to kill. A medical examiner found the two teens were shot a total of nine times after they broke into Smith’s home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.
Cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, were not innocent victims. They broke into Bryon Smith’s home, apparently looking for prescription drugs.
When Brady broke in and came down the stairs to where Smith was waiting, Mr. Smith shot him several times. Brady then tumbled the rest of the way down the stairs. Up until this point everything Byron Smith did was entirely legal.
But Byron Smith didn’t stop after he dropped Brady. He didn’t call 911 to report the home invader, or take cover, or attempt to flee, or attempt to check Brady for weapons.
He walked over to Brady, announced, “you’re dead,” and then executed him.
He repeated the process again a short time later when Kifer came down the stairs looking for Brady, executing her as well after telling her, “you’re dying.”
It took the jury less than three hours to convict Smith on all four counts.
* * *
There is a mindset among some people—based, I suspect, in a combination of poor training, fear, anger, and bravado—that they will keep shooting anyone they feel “needs to shot” until that person is veritably dead. I can promise you with 100% certainty that someone commenting on our Facebook page will bluster forth that they will “shoot to kill” any intruder, instead of “shooting to stop the threat” as any credible trainer will instruct.
The law (and for that matter, the world’s major religions) recognizes a right to use lethal force to stop threats against innocent lives. That right to use lethal force legally is a conditional, which stops the exact moment that the offender ceases to be a credible lethal threat.
The moment the offender demonstrably decides to stop being a credible threat to life, or loses the ability to become a credible threat to life, then your right to use lethal force against them stops.
There are of course moments of uncertainty as to when, precisely, a threatening person ceases to be a threat. Prosecutors and juries tend to be very sympathetic to the “reasonable person” in this situation. Many less-than-clear cases aren’t even brought to trial as a result of the likelihood of at least one member of the jury finding that a person acted reasonably shooting a threat once or even a few times more than was absolutely necessary.
But there was no ambiguity in the killing of Brady and Kifer. Neither teen was a credible threat as each lay on the basement floor, unarmed, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds, as Smith taunted and executed them in turn.
Byron Smith will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
He’s earned every second of it.