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Byron Smith guilty of murder in teens' deaths; sentenced to life

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A jury found Byron Smith guilty of first-degree murder for fatally shooting cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, after they broke into his Little Falls home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

The jury of six women and six men returned the verdict Tuesday afternoon, after deliberating for about three hours. They found Smith, 65, guilty on all four charges he faced: two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

Smith was immediately sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. He had no reaction after the verdicts were read, the Star Tribune reports.

The families of the cousins gave victim impact statements.

“Smith was robbed of things; Nick and Haile were robbed of their lives,” Brady's grandmother said.

Brady’s mother, Kimberly, didn’t look at Smith as she read her statement. “This has filled our lives with a tremendous sadness,” she said, according to the Star Tribune.

Smith argued he fired at the teens as a way to defend his home from intruders, which is legal in Minnesota. But the verdict may draw something of a line in the sand, serving as an example for how far Minnesotans may legally go in protecting themselves against intruders. His attorney said Smith wants to appeal the verdicts.

This case has been widely publicized for the effects it could have on Minnesota law, which allows a person to take a life in order to avert either death or great bodily harm, or to prevent a felony in his or her home.

Throughout the trial, the defense and prosecution painted very different pictures of what happened that Thanksgiving Day.

Prosecutors have conceded the teenagers broke into Smith's house, but say Smith, 65, crossed a line when he continued to shoot the unarmed teens – even after they had been injured. Prosecutors called it a "premeditated ambush," KARE 11 reports.

Prosecutors say Smith planned the killings and was in his basement lying in wait with a book, snacks and two loaded guns.

Smith's lawyer, Steve Meshbesher, said Smith was hiding in his basement because he feared for his life after a series of burglaries at his home, including one in which guns were stolen. Meshbesher argued Smith was an upstanding citizen and maintains that what Smith did was self defense and legal.

Smith didn't take the stand in his trial.

After the shooting, Smith admitted to police he shot Brady after he entered his home and then waited for Kifer. Minutes later, Smith shot and killed Kifer as she walked down the basement stairs. A forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies on the two teenage cousins testified last week saying Kifer was shot six times and Brady three, both sustaining multiple gunshot wounds that, by themselves, would have been fatal.

Surveillance equipment captured video of the break-in, and a digital recorder caught audio of the shootings and aftermath. In court, prosecutors played some of those audio recordings, which featured Smith, apparently to himself, calling the victims “vermin.”

Prosecutors say Smith piled their bodies on top of each other in his workshop, using a tarp to avoid getting blood on the carpet. Smith did not immediately report the shooting to police, and instead had a neighbor call on his behalf the next day.

Prior to their deaths, the two teenagers were linked to other area robberies. Authorities said a car linked to Brady and Kifer contained prescription drugs stolen from another house. Court documents from another case show Brady had previously burglarized Smith’s property at least twice.

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