A man is standing trial for murder charges involving two unarmed teenagers who broke into his central Minnesota rural home on Thanksgiving Day, 2012. He is now claiming the “defense of dwelling” to justify the brutal killings. Byron Smith is charged with the murder of Nick Brady (17) and Halle Kifer (18). He shot the two after he heard sounds and then spotted Brady who was unarmed. Smith shot him and drug the body off of the carpet so it “wouldn’t stain.” He then noticed Kifer walking down the stairs calling out Nick’s name, even though she was unarmed he shot her twice; after the first shot, as she lay on the floor dying, he gave her a “good clean finishing shot.” He then recognized her “death twitch.” Smith was in the basement of his house armed with a weapon, water and food sitting in his “favorite chair”- there had been recent burglaries in the area, and he appeared to be waiting for trouble. He videoed much of the events and the same was played to a jury today. The defendant provided law enforcement with a detailed statement much later after the incidents. The trial resumes tomorrow.
COMMENT: Minnesota law provides: When faced with a defense of dwelling claim, the jury must determine (1) whether the killing was done to present the commission of a felony in the dwelling; (2) whether the defendant’s judgment as to the gravity of the situation was reasonable under the circumstances; and (3) whether the defendant’s election to defend his or her dwelling was such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended. Minnesota does not impose a duty to retreat under such circumstances.
In this case, it appears that the jury will have to decide whether it was reasonable to shoot an unarmed 18-year-old girl twice- once when she is on the floor dying and again to make sure she was delivered a “good-clean” shot- after she already gave the “death twitch.”
UPDATE: Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole– the maximum penalty allowed under Minnesota law.