Jurors decided early that Byron Smith guilty of murders


Jurors in the murder trail of Byron Smith say it didn't take long at all to reach a consensus that the Little Falls man had planned the killings of two teens in his home, the Star Tribune reports.

The newspaper talked to several jurors in the high-profile case, which received widespread attention because it tested "castle doctrine" questions about just how far homeowners can go to protect themselves from intruders. Smith shot the two cousins after they broke into his house during a burglary attempt on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

It took the jury of six women and six men just three hours of deliberations to return convictions Tuesday on two counts each of first-degree murder and second-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17.

“For the most part, we were all pretty much in agreement from the start,” 32-year-old juror Thomas Strandberg told the Star Tribune.

Strandberg said he and his fellow jurors wanted to review all the evidence in front of them before returning a verdict, but they were nearly unanimous from the beginning of deliberations. One juror did not initially join the others in agreeing to a guilty verdict, but soon did, juror Evelyn Mrosla told the newspaper.

The teens were shot repeatedly as they crept down into Smith's basement, where Smith was waiting for them.

But two versions of the events from that night emerged during the trial. The defense argued Smith was an upstanding citizen who had lived in fear after repeated burglaries at his home, and he was defending himself. Prosecutors said Smith crossed a line into premeditated murder.

The jurors after the trial said prosecutors successfully made the case that Smith had planned for the killings by various actions – moving his truck to a neighbor's home, setting up surveillance equipment and by having a tarp handy for the bodies. He also had an audiotape recording the burglary and shootings, which Strandberg called "bone-chilling."

KARE 11 spoke to a prominent criminal defense lawyer, Marsh Halberg, who was not involved in the case but followed it closely. He said the audio recording "was a very hard thing for the defense to overcome."

Images of evidence in the case have been made available to the media, and FOX 9 has a slideshow, including photos of Smith's basement (above), the gun used in the killings and the audio recording equipment.

Reactions to the verdict have been swift. Family members said the killings could have been avoided.

"I think often about what he could have been," said Kimberly Brady, Nick's mother, told reporters. "And I see other young men with their dads or moms and it's really, really difficult and then I have to think that I will never have that chance again."

John Lange, Smith's friend and neighbor, told reporters, "This just told every drug addict in the country, they can rob all the elderly people and break into their homes and get away with it."

The trial stirred debate around Minnesota about how far a homeowner can go in response to a threat, the Associated Press notes. State law allows deadly force if necessary to prevent a felony inside one's dwelling, but a person's actions must be considered reasonable under the circumstances.

Smith was immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole, and his lawyer says there will be an appeal. Smith declined an opportunity to address the court. He did not take the stand in the case.

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