Smith charged with two counts of second degree murder; county attorney calls the incident ‘appalling’

By Terry Lehrke

Byron David Smith, who shot and killed 18-year-old Haile Kifer and her cousin 17-year-old Nicholas Brady, who he said broke into his home Thanksgiving Day, was charged with two counts of second degree murder this morning (Nov. 26).

After Byron Smith was charged with two counts of second degree murder in the shooting deaths of Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady, a press conference was held. Pictured are (from left): Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Drew Evans.

Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf asked that bail be set at $2 million bond or $200,000 cash with no conditions, or $1 million bond and $100,000 with conditions, for what he called the “cold-blooded murder of two teenagers” and “appalling” circumstances.

Smith was arrested Friday, after the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department responded to a call regarding suspicious activity at Smith’s home.

Officers found the two teens dead with multiple gunshot wounds in Smith’s basement. Smith said he shot the two as they were attempting to burglarize his home; law enforcement determined he had gone too far in protecting his property.

Byron David Smith

The criminal complaint said Smith, 64, told investigating officers his property had been broken into several times, and that Thanksgiving Day, he was in his basement when he heard footsteps around his house. Hearing a window breaking upstairs and footsteps in the hallway, Smith saw a person walking down the stairwell to the basement. The first person down the steps was Brady, and Smith said when he saw the young man’s hips, he shot him twice with a Mini-14 rifle, causing him to fall down the steps.

After falling down the stairs, Smith said the young man was looking up at him. Smith told officers he shot him in the face. “I want him dead,” the complaint said Smith told the officer.

The criminal complaint said Smith then put the body on a tarp and dragged it into his basement workshop and sat back down in his chair.

A few minutes later, the criminal complaint said the second person, Kifer, came down the stairs. When Smith saw her hips, he shot her, causing her to tumble down the steps and when he tried to shoot her again, his gun jammed.

Smith told officers the young woman laughed at him when his gun jammed. Upset, he used a .22 caliber nine-shot revolver and shot her in the chest several times. After dragging her body into his workshop, the complaint said he noticed she was still gasping for air and shot her under the chin.

Sheriff Michel Wetzel said during a press conference this afternoon, that Smith told officers he shot Kifer again to “put her out of her misery.”

The complaint said Smith called a neighbor Friday morning to ask whether he knew any attorneys. Smith admitted he did not attempt to call law enforcement, but asked his neighbor to do so after the neighbor was unable to assist in finding a lawyer.

Wetzel said a great deal of confusion surrounded the incident and wanted to make the legalities of the situation clear.

“Minnesota law clearly states that you have the right to use force to protect your property,” he said. “The force must be reasonable. The law further states you have the right to use deadly force if necessary to protect yourself from great bodily harm or the commission of a felony in your home.”

“We understand that,” he said.

“The law doesn’t permit you to execute somebody once the threat is gone and there is no possible way the crime can continue,” said the sheriff.

The law also requires that law enforcement be notified and that aid be rendered.

“We received no such calls,” said Wetzel. “We got the information from the neighbors.”

Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf extended his sympathies to the families and friends of the victims for the “terrible tragedy” and admitted to a reporter he had “never seen anything like this.”

Middendorf asked that people not rush to judgement. “Let the investigation continue and let all the facts come out in court,” he said. “Mr. Smith is entitled to a fair process.”

The Attorney General’s Office has been asked to assist in the case, Middendorf said.

Drew Evans of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said the evidence has been collected and the BCA will continue to work with the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office.

Smith, who is being represented by Attorney Gregory Larson, waived his right to a speedy trial. Middendorf said a schedule for another hearing has not been set.

Should the $1 million bond and $100,000 cash for bail with conditions be accepted, Smith may not leave Minnesota; must surrender his passport and any firearms; remain law abiding and not have any contact with the victims’ families.

Funeral arrangements for the victims have not yet been finalized.