Rejecting an argument that a Minnesota man fatally shot two teen burglars in reasonable self-defense, a jury on Tuesday quickly convicted the man of premeditated murder and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Byron Smith, 65, had been wary of thieves after losing some guns in an apparent burglary at his Little Falls house, his attorneys said.
On Thanksgiving morning in 2012, Smith set himself up in his basement with loaded guns, a long book and some snacks, according to Morrison County prosecutors. He hid his car to make it appear that he wasn’t home, prosecutors alleged.
When cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, broke a window and separately came down the basement stairs, they were killed at close range by nine shots in total.
Using a digital audio recorder, Smith recorded the shooting and a six-hour conversation with himself afterward.
“I don’t see them as human,” he said on the recording, referring to the two teens. “I see them as vermin.”
Prosecutors alleged that the audio recording showed Smith was prepared to go beyond reasonable force to keep his home from being burglarized. He continued to shoot the wounded teens as they screamed for help, according to the recording.
Smith’s attorney, Steve Meshbesher, pointed out that Smith expressed regret on the recording and had no idea that the high school students were unarmed.
Meshbesher argued that Smith was a victim who should not blamed. Instead, it was Kifer and Brady who endangered themselves, defense attorneys said, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Judge Douglas Anderson barred the jury from hearing evidence that linked the teens to a previous break-in at Smith’s house.
“These are people who have stolen my guns,” Smith told investigators. “I have a choice of being the shooter or getting shot.”
During closing arguments, prosecutor Pete Orput said the teens were unassuming targets like deer in a forest, the Associated Press reported.
“Every time the defendant pulled that trigger, he considered,” Orput reportedly told the jury. “He made a choice. He considered his options.”
The jury returned with a verdict shortly after closing arguments Tuesday, and the judge sentenced Smith immediately afterward to two concurrent life sentences. Court records show Smith was convicted of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
At a news conference, Orput said he was saddened that two teens had to die over “nothing.” Meshbesher told reporters he was already preparing an appeal.