LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota (Reuters) - A Minnesota man whose killing of two teenagers who broke into his home was captured on an audio recording he made was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.
Jurors convicted Byron Smith, 65, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing 18-year-old Haile Kifer and her 17-year-old cousin Nick Brady at his home in rural Little Falls, Minnesota, on Thanksgiving Day in November 2012.
The case helped fuel a national debate about how far a person can go to protect himself from bodily harm and his home. It also divided Little Falls, a town of about 8,300 located 100 miles north of Minneapolis.
Smith never denied shooting the teens, but told police he had feared for his life. He trembled, held his head in his hands and wiped tears from his eyes when prosecutors played excerpts from the audio recording during closing arguments on Tuesday.
On a day most Americans spend gathering with family and friends, Smith had turned on an audio recorder and sat down with a novel alone in a basement chair wedged between bookcases with a rifle at his side and a handgun on his hip.
When Kifer and Brady entered the house wearing hoodies and gloves, but not carrying weapons, the sounds of shattered glass, footsteps on the stairs and gunfire were recorded.
Smith is heard on the tape shooting Brady three times and telling him, “You’re dead.” When Kifer came down the stairs minutes later, Smith shot her six times. His rifle jammed while he was shooting Kifer and he fired more shots from a handgun, he told police.
Smith waited a day before reporting the shooting, but agreed to an interview with police, excerpts from which were also played in court. When asked about Kifer’s death, Smith replied, “I gave her a good, clean finishing shot.”
On Tuesday, prosecutor Pete Orput urged jurors to convict, telling them Smith had planned the shooting. Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher told jurors Smith was confused and scared that day, and his home had recently been burglarized and guns stolen.
Jurors deliberated about three hours before convicting Smith. Meshbesher said Smith planned to appeal.
Afterward, Brady’s mother, Kimberly Brady, told reporters, “My son died horribly and for nothing. I think often of what he could have been.”
Bonnie Schaeffel, Brady’s grandmother, said Smith “executed two kids for a mistake and he wanted to get away with murder.”
Reporting by Todd Melby; Editing by David Bailey, Leslie Adler and Mohammad Zargham