As the Byron Smith trial resumes in Little Falls on Monday, many courtroom watchers are wondering if the 65-year-old homeowner accused in the high profile case will take the stand.
KARE 11 reported that when Smith's attorney Steve Meshbesher was asked directly about whether Smith would testify in his own behalf, he said, "No comment. You'll see."
Smith faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, f after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. Smith has argued that he fired at the teens in defending his home from intruders, which is legal in Minnesota, but prosecutors say he crossed a line when he continued to fire at the unarmed teens after injuring them.
There was so much interest in the trial that spectators were turned away from the overflowing courtroom on Friday. The Star Tribune reports that the case has been controversial in Little Falls.
“What he said to those kids while they were dying was not OK,” said resident Jaelyn Lemke, who told the newspaper that the mood in the town of 8,000 has grown increasingly tense.
Resident Stephen Wood said that while he has been closely following the court action, he was not likely to strike up a conversation about it in town, where opinions about Smith are sharply divided. “People might talk about it with a couple of their friends in private, but at the barber shop, where you think everybody talks about everything, they just steer clear of it,” he said.
The trial is expected to wrap up early next week.
Writing in the Sunday Pioneer Press, columnist Ruben Rosario likened the Smith case to that of Bernhard Goetz, called the "Subway Vigilante." In 1984, Goetz became infamous for shooting four teenagers who he said were about to rob him on a New York City subway train. Goetz had previously been mugged. He was charged with four counts of attempted murder, but was acquitted of all charges except for illegal gun possession.
The Goetz case had a racial component, because Goetz was white and the teenagers were African-American. "But the convergence between crime and self-defense, the shooters' actions after the supposed threats were stopped, and their statements to police are strikingly similar," Rosario writes.
"What happened here is that I snapped," Goetz told detectives at the time. "If I had more bullets, I would have shot them again and again. My problem was that I ran out of bullets."
Rosario says those comments are similar to the ones made by Smith. An audio tape was rolling as Smith shot and killed the two teens as they came down the steps of the basement where he was waiting. Fordham University Law School professor Thane Rosenbaum told Rosario that while both Goetz and Smith fired more shots than needed, the castle doctrine presents a significant difference that could sway the jury in the Smith case.
"In Goetz, the jury was fed up with urban crime and dangerous subways; perhaps Minnesota homeowners will react the same way if they feel that their neighborhoods are vulnerable to break-ins and robberies and they feel that the police are not doing enough to protect them," Rosenbaum said.