Prosecutor: Minn. homeowner who shot teens intended to kill

Byron Smith, center
CBS Minnesota

Last Updated Apr 29, 2014 1:45 PM EDT

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - A Minnesota homeowner who shot two teenagers during a break-in always planned to take their lives, setting himself up in his basement as if he was in a deer stand and the teens were the deer, a prosecutor said during closing arguments Tuesday.

The case later went to the jury after the attorney for Byron Smith argued the teens - cousins - would be alive if they hadn't chosen to commit a burglary.

Smith, 65, methodically laid the groundwork to kill Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, when they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012, prosecutor Pete Orput said Tuesday. Smith is charged with first-degree premeditated murder.

Orput reminded jurors during closing arguments of testimony that showed the retired security engineer's preparations for the killings in his basement, bringing with him a bottle of water, snack bars, a novel, extra ammunition and a tarp, Orput said. He also had moved his truck away from his home, which Orput suggested was meant to make the residence appear unoccupied.

"Some of you hunters will think this sounds like deer hunting," Orput said. Later, showing jurors a picture of the chair between two bookcases where Smith waited, he said: "That's the deer stand, right there."

Smith's attorney was to present his closing argument later Tuesday. The defense has maintained that Smith, who did not testify during the trial, was scared and was defending his home after earlier break-ins that included the theft of some guns.

The killings stirred debate in Little Falls - a town of 8,000 about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis - and around the state over how far a homeowner may go in using deadly force. Minnesota law allows lethal force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home or dwelling, but authorities have said Smith crossed a line when he continued to shoot the teens after they were no longer a threat - a total of nine times in all.

Judge Douglas Anderson instructed jurors Monday to decide whether Smith's actions were reasonable given the situation. They have the option of convicting on lesser charges of second-degree, unpremeditated murder.

Orput focused most of his argument Tuesday on the question of premeditation.

He replayed a recording Smith had set up on bookshelves in the basement, which was key evidence for prosecutors along with Smith's statements to investigators. The tape captures the sound of glass breaking as the teens enter the home, then the sounds of Brady walking downstairs to gunshots, followed by Kifer about 10 minutes later and more shots.

Smith is heard on the tape saying "Sorry about that," and "You're dying" to Kifer, and calling her a name.

"Every time the defendant pulled that trigger, he considered," Orput said. "He made a choice. He considered his options."

During testimony, defense attorney Steve Meshbesher tried to raise doubts about whether Smith could have known the teens were unarmed, with testimony from a private detective who said it was impossible to tell as they walked down the stairs.

Meshbesher's case also included testimony from character witnesses for Smith, who before retiring had handled technical security issues for American embassies, such as building layout and alarms, for the U.S. State Department.

The jury will be sequestered during deliberations, and a unanimous verdict is required.