Byron Smith’s Mug Shots; Source
The line between self-defense and cold-blooded murder has been debated many times in court and isn’t always the clearest. However, Byron Smith’s crimes show what happens when people actively cross that line.
Who is Byron Smith?
Byron Smith is a retired security professional who had a career with the U.S. State Department. His position had required him to set up security and protection for embassies and other high-profile events.
During his retirement in Little Falls, Minnesota, he had been the victim of several home burglaries. In one burglary, the thieves had stolen some of his guns and ammunition.
In response, Byron had set up multiple security features for his home, including an alarm system and video cameras around his house. However, Byron took it one step further. He decided to take matters into his own hands and on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, he set a trap for any potential burglars.
Luring the Burglars In
The security cameras around his house show that Byron removed his car from the driveway before the break-in to make it look like he wasn’t home for the holiday, even though he stayed home for the entire day.
An hour after he moved the car out of the driveway, two people appeared on the security cameras and appear to be casing the house. The two people turned out to be teenagers, Haile Kifer and her cousin Nicholas Brady. Haile was 18 years old. Nicholas was 17. Neither had a weapon.
Unfortunately, they took the bait that Byron had set and attempted to burglarize the seemingly vacant home. The video showed the teenagers trying to enter through the front door, failing, and then Nicholas spotting the security cameras and turning them away from them.
Meanwhile, Byron waited in his basement with a loaded rifle, snacks, water, and a tape recorder running.
The Audio Recordings of the Murders
The tape recorder had been running for hours and captured the audio from when Byron patiently waited for hours for the break-in to occur until long after the murders.
Before the murders: The tape recorder picked up Byron talking to himself. He asked to see a lawyer multiple times (which the prosecution team in the trial called a “rehearsal”). This went on for hours until the recorder caught the sound of a window breaking.
During the murders: Nicholas went downstairs to the basement first and Byron shot the 17-year-old. Groans could be heard along with more gunshots. After killing Nicholas, Byron moved the body off the carpet and waited for the second teenager to find them a full ten minutes later.
When Haile finally came down the stairs, calling out to her cousin as she looked for him, more gunshots sounded on the recording along with the sound of screaming and Haile falling down the stairs.
Byron apologized as Haile screamed, and then Byron said, “You’re dying…bitch.”
A final gunshot rang out in the recordings, which was later deemed to be the one that Haile suffered from at close-range.
After the murders: On the tape recording, Byron spoke to himself after both of the teens were dead. He rehearsed his lines for authorities. He said, “I refuse to live in fear. I am not a bleeding-heart liberal. I felt like I was cleaning up a mess . . .I was doing my civic duty . . . I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
The bodies weren’t found until the next day when Byron was arrested. He didn’t call the police until the following morning and had claimed the reason was that he didn’t want to interrupt their Thanksgiving celebrations.
The Defense: The Castle Doctrine Laws
The trial that ensued after the murders were over a year long. Byron was charged with second-degree intentional murder, and then with first-degree premeditated murder.
The defense for Byron based their argument on the Castle Doctrine and the Stand Your Ground law.
The Castle Doctrine is a 17-century law that says that people have the right to defend their property against trespassers. The Stand Your Ground law expands on the Castle Doctrine to include any space where an individual feels threatened.
The defense team, led by Attorney Meshbesher said that Byron had felt threatened as he had experienced past burglaries and had gone as far as to install the home security systems.
However, the prosecution disagreed.
The Prosecution: Reasonable or Unreasonable?
The prosecution, led by Prosecutor Orput, asked the jury to primarily consider one question: Did Byron act as a reasonable person would have when he murdered Haile and Nicholas?
The prosecution claimed that he didn’t. They pointed out the following facts:
- Byron had moved his car off his driveway to look like he wasn’t home.
- Byron had set up the audio recorder that morning.
- Byron had loaded his rifle and set up a chair in the basement, complete with snacks and a book to pass the time.
- Byron had laid out a tarp in the basement to prepare.
- Nicholas and Haile went down the basement stairs ten full minutes apart.
- Nicholas and Haile were unarmed.
- Byron didn’t call a warning to either teen before shooting them.
- Byron fired a total of nine times and had used two different firearms.
Furthermore, the prosecution compared Byron’s setup to deer hunting. Prosecutor Orput specifically referred to Byron’s chair set up in view of the basement door, complete with water and snacks, as a “deer stand.”
The jury agreed with the prosecution. They decided the number of gunshots fired was excessive and that Byron had taken deliberate actions to premeditate the crime such as moving his car that morning to make his house look empty.
On April 29, 2014, Byron Smith was convicted of first and second-degree murder for killing Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The jury said afterward that the deciding factor for their verdict was the audio recordings that Byron himself had made. One jury member had cried at hearing them and the jury quickly decided that “we were dealing with a deranged individual.”