Washington County Attorney Peter Orput to assist with Smith homicide case

Washington County Attorney Peter Orput. Photo used with permission of Mr. Orput.
Washington County Attorney Peter Orput. Photo used with permission of Mr. Orput.

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput will assist in the prosecution of the Thanksgiving Day homicide in which Byron Smith of Little Falls is charged with the second degree murders of Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17.

Smith, 64, was charged when it was discovered he had shot the alleged burglars multiple times at his home Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22.

The discovery was not made until the following day, Nov. 23, when Smith called a neighbor to ask whether he knew of an attorney.

The neighbor was the person who called law enforcement saying there had been a possible shooting at the Smith home.

Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf appointed Orput and Washington County First Assistant Brent Wartner as special assistant Morrison County attorneys to alleviate the burden on his office which is handling nine homicide-related cases — an unprecedented number for Morrison County.

“This rash of homicide cases is well beyond anything we could have anticipated,” Middendorf said Monday.

“My staffing level is not sufficient to provide the resources necessary to handle the contentious Smith prosecution. That is why I have accepted the generous offer of assistance extended by Mr. Orput,” said Middendorf.

Orput, the Washington County Attorney since 2011, has been a career prosecutor for more than 24 years. He has tried in excess of 20 homicide cases to verdict all over the state.

Middendorf said he chose Orput for his background, experience and passion for the case.

“He has successfully prosecuted many different homicide cases across the state of Minnesota. He is also knowledgeable about firearms,” said Middendorf.

Most importantly, said Middendorf, “He shares my passion and commitment to seeing justice be done for the two victims.”

Orput will not be paid for his services, but will be paid expenses, such as mileage.

“This is what prosecutors in this state do; we help other offices out when they need help,” said Orput. “My office and I have the experience and resources to assist Morrison County with this important prosecution. We are happy to do so.”

Middendorf said he has personally handled cases for other counties as well as referred cases to other counties, usually because of an actual or perceived conflict of interest.

“Someday I may be asked to help out Washington County on one of their cases,” Middendorf said.

Assistant Morrison County Attorney Todd Kosovich said the Washington County attorneys discussed the case for two hours in Little Falls during the week of Dec. 24.

Kosovich will assist “to some extent,” he said, since he had been out at the scene of the Smith home after the shootings.

Washington County was one of several county attorneys’ offices volunteering to help, Kosovich said.

“I’m very relieved to have such great guys on board with us,” said Kosovich.

Smith was released on bail Dec. 18, 2012. An omnibus hearing for the case has been set for Tuesday, Jan. 22.