Shooter of 2 Little Falls teens chargedby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — A rural Little Falls homeowner was charged Monday with two counts of second-degree murder for the Thanksgiving Day deaths of two local teenagers.
Byron Smith, 64, told authorities the teenagers broke into his home and that he may have fired more shots than necessary.
In Smith's account of the event, he told authorities he heard sounds of his home being broken into around noon on Thanksgiving Day. Armed with a Mini 14 rifle and a .22-caliber revolver, Smith waited in the basement.
Bob Collins has posted video of authorities doing a play-by-play recounting of the incident on his News Cut blog.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said Smith stated that he shot Nicholas Brady, 17, as Brady walked down the basement stairs.
"The person fell to the bottom of the stairs and Mr. Smith said that he then fired several more rounds at point-blank range into the body, Wetzel said. "According to Mr. Smith, he then moved the body, drug it into another room, returned to his chair and sat down."
Court documents indicate that Smith then shot Haile Kifer, 18, as she descended the stairs several minutes later. Smith told authorities he tried to shoot Kifer again but his rifle jammed. Smith said he drew his revolver and shot Kifer several times in the chest.
"Mr. Smith said that he then drug that body into the back room where the first body was laying, and at that time noticed that the second victim was still gasping," Wetzel said. "Mr. Smith told us he then placed his .22-caliber pistol under the victim's chin and fired a final shot."
Minnesota law gives people the right to protect their property with reasonable force, Wetzel said. The law allows for the use of deadly force if necessary to protect oneself from great bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a felony in the home.
"We respect that right. We know that right exists. What happened in this case, though, is it went further than that," Wetzel said. "The law doesn't permit you to execute someone once the threat is gone."
Minnesota law requires people who use force in self defense to immediately report the incident to authorities. Smith left the bodies in the basement overnight and waited nearly a full day before asking a neighbor to call authorities, Wetzel said.
Smith told authorities that his home had been broken into several times previously. The sheriff said his office had a report of one break-in, which happened on Oct. 27. Smith reported losing thousands of dollars in cash, gold coins, several firearms, jewelry and photo equipment. Smith lives in a home about 10 miles south of Little Falls, a central Minnesota town of 8,000 people.
The complaint said Smith told investigators he was fearful the two teens had a weapon, though he acknowledged that no weapons were found on either teen.
In the courtroom, Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf described the incident as "appalling" and a case of "cold-blooded murder." The case will be controversial, he said.
"People will have some very strong opinions on this matter and about what happened," Middendorf said. "I would ask that people not rush to judgment. Let the investigation continue. Let all the facts come out in court. Mr. Smith is entitled to a fair process."
Smith is reportedly a retired security officer with the U.S. State Department. The county attorney requested a high bail amount because Smith was accustomed to traveling abroad, having lived in cities such as Bangkok, Cairo and Beijing. The judge set Smith's unconditional bail at $2 million.
Smith remains in custody in Morrison County Jail. His next court date has not been set.
Smith's defense attorney Greg Larson is just beginning to get his bearings in the case.
"We are going to be certainly raising a defense to the case, but at this point... I need more time to discuss the matter with my client," Larson said. "Also, my investigator and I have to certainly do more investigation on our part."
SCHOOLS MAKE COUNSELORS AVAILABLE AFTER SHOOTINGS
Little Falls and Pillager schools made counselors available Monday for students and staff trying to cope with the shooting deaths of two cousins.
Kifer was a senior at Little Falls High School.
Schools in the district don't resume classes until Tuesday, so Superintendent Stephen Jones says only a few people met with counselors Monday. But he says he expects a "vastly different situation" when students return on Tuesday. Jones said he hopes students take advantage of the counseling services Tuesday because it means the kids will be ready to get their feelings out.
Classes were back in session Monday at Pillager High School, where Nicholas Schaeffel was a student. Superintendent Chuck Arns says a few students sought help from school counselors and local clergy members there Monday morning.
Reports from the Associated Press contributed to this story
- Morning Edition, 11/27/2012, 7:20 a.m.