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Victim or vigilante? Contrasting versions of accused in Little Falls trial

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Two different versions of the man accused of killing two small town teenagers emerged in opening arguments of the Byron Smith trial in Morrison County District Court.

Smith is the 65-year-old Little Falls man charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the slayings of cousins Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

The Associated Press reported that prosecutors said Smith planned the killings, and was lying in wait with a book, snacks and two loaded guns.

"He's down in the basement, in a chair, tucked between two bookcases at the bottom of the stairs. He said he was down there reading a book ... with his Mini-14, a .22-caliber revolver, some energy bars and a bottle of water," prosecutor Brent Wartner told the jury.

FOX 9 said that prosecutors also told the jury that they will hear audio that was taken from a recorder that ran for six hours as the teenagers broke into Smith's home and were shot.

The Star Tribune reports that defense attorney Steve Meshbesher portrayed Smith as so terrified from previous burglaries that he wore a holster and pistol in his house, couldn’t sleep and was “wondering day and night when the next burglary would occur … afraid and fearful for his safety, and possibly his life.”

According to the criminal complaint, Smith shot Kifer and Brady multiple times. 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, instead having a neighbor call on his behalf the next day. Veteran defense attorney Jeff Degree told FOX 9  that he thinks the case will hinge not on the break-in, but the breakdown of events that followed.

"The emphasis is going to be on what took place after they were already shot," Degree predicted. "This wasn't a snap decision that this guy made."

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.

Minnesota law allows a person to take a life to avert death or great bodily harm, or to prevent a felony in his or her home. Juries are instructed to consider the circumstances and whether it was a decision “a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger perceived."

If convicted of first-degree murder, Smith, a retired security engineer for the U.S. Department of State, faces life in prison.

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