Minnesota Double Murder Trial Shows Importance Of "Shooting To Stop the Threat" Over "Shooting to Kill"

In Minnesota there is a trial underway of a man accused of double murder for allegedly taking home defense too far.

Byron Smith, a retired security engineer for the U.S. Department of State, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the slayings of cousins Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 16, on Thanksgiving Day 2012. The killings rocked the small city of Little Falls.

Prosecutors say Smith was sitting in his basement when he heard a window breaking upstairs. When Brady started walking down the basement stairs, Smith shot him twice.

Then, according to court documents, Smith shot Brady a third time in the face, allegedly telling investigators, “I want him dead.”

Minutes later, Kifer walked down the same steps, reportedly calling Brady’s name. Smith shot her multiple times, too – telling investigators the last time he fired was “a good clean finishing shot.”

Steve Meshbesher, Smith’s attorney, said the case focuses on home security, that Smith had been worried after several break-ins.

“This was about anxiety and fear, and what somebody does in their own home,” Meshbesher said.

But prosecutors say Smith planned the killings – lying in wait for the two teens in his basement with a book, two guns, energy bars and a bottle of water. The teens weren’t armed.

brady kifer
Haile Kifer (left) and Nick Brady (left) were shot to death during a burglary.

The Star Tribune gives a more detailed account of the incident as it unfolded:

Sitting in his favorite basement reading chair with a paperback that day, Smith said he got “seriously stressed” when he heard someone rattle the door handles to his house and saw a shadow through a picture window.

Soon, he heard a window break, then he heard someone walking upstairs and when the intruder descended, Smith saw feet, legs, then hips and shot twice. The intruder fell face up, Smith could see it was a male.

Then, “I shoot him in the face. I want him dead,” Smith told the sergeant. He put the bloody body on a tarp and dragged it into a basement workshop to keep from staining his basement carpet, he said.

He reloaded his rifle and sat again. He tried to calm down, but blood was pounding in his ears and he heard more footsteps upstairs and feared, “they’re ganging up on me,” he told Luberts.

He shot the next intruder, wearing a black hoodie tightly drawn to her face, in much the same way. She tumbled down the stairs, too.

“My thinking was, I’m not going to ask if there’s a gun,” he said. He pulled the trigger to shoot her again, he said, but when the gun clicked in a misfire, he heard her laugh at him. He pulled out another gun and shot more.

“Yes I fired more shots than I needed to,” he told Luberts, adding that he was feeling threatened and “I was no longer willing to live in fear.”

When the female stopped moving, he dragged her by her clothes and into the workshop, too. There, he said, he noticed she was still gasping and didn’t believe she should suffer, so he gave her “a good clean finishing shot,” he said. “She gave out the death twitch.”

Questioned about why he had continued to shoot, Smith explained that he was afraid the intruders would get up again and he didn’t want to wait for them to pull out weapons.

“I wasn’t looking at her hands,” he explained, adding that he believed they were gun thieves. “As far as I was concerned they were totally dangerous.”

I have little sympathy for Brady and Kifer. They were burglars in another man’s home, and their is reasonable suspicion that this wasn’t their first burglary of the Smith home.

It is my opinion that the first two shots Smith fired into Brady were clearly within the acceptable limits of castle doctrine, and that it doesn’t matter at all whether Smith was “lying in wait” as the prosecution claims, or if he was just reading a book. Nor does it seem to be remotely illegal that Smith shot Kifer as she came down the steps into his basement looking for her accomplice.

Where Smith likely stepped over the legal line was in delivering the coup de grâce to both teens. The final shots to each Brady and then two at separate times into Kifer turned a what appears to be justifiable homicides carried out in accordance with the principles of the castle doctrine, into executions. Smith’s blunt admission, “Yes I fired more shots than I needed to,” will likely result in a conviction, though I personally think that a first-degree murder charge is excessive.

There are some people who seem to have a hard time understanding the differences between “shooting to stop the threat” and “shooting to kill.”

Mr. Smith is learning the hard way that this very important distinction is the difference between being the lawful survivor of a home invasion, and of becoming a defendant in a multiple murder trial.