BYRON SMITH TRIAL: Recap of opening statements - KMSP-TV

BYRON SMITH TRIAL: Recap of opening statements

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Byron Smith passes through security at the courthouse in Little Falls, Minn. Photo by Paul Blume / Fox 9 News Byron Smith passes through security at the courthouse in Little Falls, Minn. Photo by Paul Blume / Fox 9 News
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (KMSP) -

Opening statements began Monday morning in the Little Falls, Minn. murder trial of Byron Smith – a 65-year-old man painted by prosecutors as a calculated killer, and described by the defense as a proud veteran terrorized by previous burglaries.

The judge called attorneys for both sides into his chambers Monday morning, just minutes before opening statements were set to begin, raising the question of whether a plea deal may be in the works.

THE CHARGES

Smith, 65, is charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the shooting deaths of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer at his Little Falls home. He is also facing two counts of second-degree murder.

According to the criminal complaint, Smith shot Kifer and Brady multiple times during the burglary of his home. He admitted to using "more shots than" were needed, and even gloated about firing a "good, clean finishing shot." He did not immediately report the shooting to police, instead having a neighbor call on his behalf the next day.

OPENING STATEMENTS: PROSECUTION

Prosecutors told the jury they will hear the full audio recordings taken as Haile Kifer and Nick Brady broke into Smith homes, as well as recordings of the deadly shootings.

Prosecutors said Smith piled the bodies Brady and Kifer on top of each other in his workshop, using a tarp to avoid getting blood on the carpet.

OPENING STATEMENTS: DEFENSE

Smith’s defense attorney insisted his client is not guilty of murder, and asked the jury to listen to all facts and weigh the information presented before reaching a conclusion.

"He says over and over again what happened and why," Steve Meshbesher said. "The fear was overwhelming."

The defense portrayed Smith at a Boy Scout leader and proud veteran who was terrified in his own home because of prior burglaries. Smith was known to wear a holstered handgun inside the house in case he encountered a burglar.

Prosecutors objected 3 times during the opening statements – an odd move that shows how contentious this trial will be.

SMITH SHOWS FIRST SIGNS OF EMOTION

On Monday, jurors also got the chance to listen to Smith explain, in his own words, how he killed the two teenage intruders. 

Although his attorney has not decided whether Smith will take the stand, audio recordings of his police interrogation were played in court on Monday. Smith could be heard speaking in a very matter-of-fact tone with officers as he told them he was terrified inside his Little Falls home after a rash of burglaries and thefts.

"These are people who have stolen my guns," he said. "I have a choice of being the shooter or getting shot."

When asked why he kept firing after Brady and Kifer were disabled, Smith said, "Even if I kill someone, I don't want them to suffer." He further compared the killings to hunting deer.

As the recording played, Smith made his first visible display of emotion, dabbing at tears in his eyes.

SELF DEFENSE VS MURDER

Brady and Kifer were linked to other area robberies, and the break-in of Smith's home will be the focal point for the defense. Veteran defense attorney Jeff Degree told FOX 9 the fact that the trial is in a rural area will be an asset for their argument.

"A lot of times, you'll see defendants trying to move their trials," Degree said. "This is a case, I think, they wanted to have in a rural area because you have a lot of cabin owners and homeowners who do feel vulnerable out in the rural areas in which they live."

CRIMINAL DEFENSE INSIDER: Strategies at play in Little Falls

Smith is charged also charged with two counts of second-degree intentional murder because the first-degree charges could be hard to prove.

The jury is comprised of half men, half women, and at least one NRA member.

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