Byron Smith Denied New Trial
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday let the murder conviction stand of a Little Falls man who killed two teenagers when they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.
Byron Smith, 67, was convicted in 2014 of first-degree premeditated murder in the fatal shootings of 18-year-old Haile Kifer and her 17-year-old cousin, Nick Brady. Smith was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Smith's attorneys had sought a new trial, but the Supreme Court ruled that alleged errors by the trial court did not deprive him of a fair trial. The justices also ruled ordered that the Kifer and Brady families be paid more than $19,000 to cover the cost of their children's headstones.
"I am happy for the Kifer and Brady families as the case is now concluded but their grief, sadly, goes on," lead prosecutor Pete Orput said.
Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher said he was still reviewing the opinion, but that he believes Smith still has several avenues for further appeals.
"I'm not sure where we're going to go but it's far from over," Meshbesher said.
Smith had claimed he used reasonable force to defend himself and feared for his life after several break-ins at his home. But prosecutors said he sat in his basement with guns, waiting for the teens to enter his house with a setup so elaborate that Orput compared it to a deer stand a hunter would use. Prosecutors argued Smith then went too far when he continued to shoot them after they were no longer a threat.
The key evidence for prosecutors was an audio recording that Smith made himself, which captured the killings in chilling detail, including Smith's taunts as the teens died.
The killings stunned Little Falls, a central Minnesota community of 8,000, and stirred debate about how far people can go to defend their homes. Under Minnesota law, a person may use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home or dwelling, but the force must be reasonable.
On appeal, Meshbesher, argued that Smith didn't get a fair trial due to cumulative errors in the case. Among other things, he argued the courtroom was improperly closed to the public on the trial's opening day for a discussion on a pretrial evidentiary issue. He also argued that there were prosecution errors during the grand jury proceedings and that the trial judge erred when he limited who could be called as defense witnesses.
But the justices said none of the alleged errors deprived Smith of a fair grand jury, his right to a public trial or his right to present a complete defense. They also found that the prosecutor did not commit misconduct during his closing argument.
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