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A man who was standing trial for murder charges involving two unarmed teenagers who broke into his central Minnesota rural home on Thanksgiving Day, 2012 was convicted of two counts of 1st-degree murder today and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Byron Smith was found guilty of the deaths of Nick Brady (17) and Halle Kifer (18). The jury deliberated for only 3 hours before reaching their verdict- a clear indication that they did not buy into the defense theory of defense of property. The jury learned that Smith shot the two after he heard sounds and then spotted Brady who was unarmed. He 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. Smith could be heard likening the two teenagers to vermin at one point during his videotaping of the events.

COMMENT I: The defense counted on a pro-gun mentality in this mostly rural state where about 186,000 deer were shot, and around 500,000 deer-hunting licenses were issued in 2013 (actually a decrease from previous years). Minnesota in many ways still holds on tightly to beliefs about the “right” to be armed for the protection of themselves, family and property. However, this was never the issue in this case; instead, this was always a matter about what was reasonable under the circumstances; the jury quickly concluded that shooting a young boy and beautiful young teenage girl, in the manner presented, was just way beyond the realm of reasonableness. The jury got it right in this case– but this does not in any way diminish the right to bear arms and protect yourself or others-especially in your home – but your actions must be reasonable.

COMMENT II: In this case, the defendant was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder; this required proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith intended to kill Nick and Halle and that there was a type of planning (no specific amount of time is required-premedication, under the law, can be formed within seconds). Here, the prosecutor was able to argue based upon the evidence that Smith planned and prepared for someone to enter his house. It was like he was waiting for trouble. Minnesota provides for life without the possibility of parole in first-degree murder cases; the state does not have the death penalty. However, if the federal government ever sought the death penalty in a case in Minnesota (there is a federal death penalty applicable in all states), the method of execution would have to be method last used Minnesota; William Williams was hung on February 13, 1906, for murdering his lover in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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