LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - A homeowner who shot and killed two unarmed teenagers during a break-in was quickly convicted of premeditated murder Tuesday, with a jury taking about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense.
Byron Smith, a 65-year-old retiree who once set up security in American embassies for the U.S. State Department, shot Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.
Smith's attorney said he was fearful after previous burglaries. But prosecutors argued that Smith lay in wait in his basement and intended to kill the teens, with a setup so elaborate that lead prosecutor Pete Orput compared it to a deer stand. Their key evidence was an audio recording that captured the killings in chilling detail, including Smith's taunts as the teens died.
The mothers of the teens, who were cousins, cried as the verdicts were read: Guilty on two counts each of first-degree and second-degree murder. Smith was sentenced to life without parole. Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher said he would appeal.
Brady's grandmother, Bonnie Schaeffel, was among family members who addressed the court after the verdicts.
She said Smith seemed like a "sour, angry old recluse who felt he was above the law." She added she was sorry his house was burglarized, but said Kifer and Brady should have had the chance to grow up and learn from their mistake.
Kifer's aunt, Laurie Skipper, read a statement from her niece's parents: "Byron Smith made a conscious choice to shoot and kill our beautiful daughter Haile. . . . The feelings of helplessness are overwhelming."