Both have ties to teen shot during alleged Thanksgiving burglary
A Little Falls teen, charged with second and third degree aiding and abetting Nick Brady in a burglary at the home of Byron Smith, appeared in Morrison County Court Tuesday. Another teen was charged in December 2012 for possessing a gun stolen from Smith’s home.
Just a month after that burglary, Smith was charged with two counts of second degree murder for shooting and killing Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, during an alleged burglary Thanksgiving Day.
Murder charges were brought when investigators discovered Smith had shot the two multiple times and didn’t report the crime until the following afternoon.
Smith, 64, had reported his Little Falls home was burglarized Oct. 27, 2012. He told law enforcement his home and garage had been burglarized several times over the course of the summer and fall 2012.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said Smith had reported only the Oct. 27 burglary, and that there was no record of other burglaries.
During that burglary, a shotgun, a rifle, a Nikon camera and several thousand dollars in cash were stolen from Smith’s home.
Investigators obtained search warrants for items believed to be stolen from Smith’s residence during the summer and fall of 2012. The warrants were executed Nov. 27 and 29, 2012, at the Little Falls home of 17-year-old Cody Mathew Kasper.
Kasper’s father told law enforcement that his son might have information about the location of items stolen from Smith.
The criminal complaint said Kasper acknowledged in a voluntary statement that he had worked for Smith, doing yard work the year before.
During the summer of 2012, Kasper said he and Brady went to the Smith home. While he did not enter the home, Kasper said he acted as a lookout while Brady kicked in the basement door and returned with an envelope full of cash and a video camcorder.
Brady allegedly bought items for Kasper including shoes and clothing, using the cash stolen from Smith and gave him an ATV for his part in helping with the burglary.
In mid-October 2012, Kasper said he and Brady returned to Smith’s residence, parking by nearby soccer fields and walked to the home.
Kasper again acted as lookout while Brady broke into the detached garage and came out with a chain saw, rolls of copper wire and a gas siphoning kit. The items were hidden in woods near the property; the two returned at a later date to pick them up.
Kasper said they maintained phone contact, so he could warn Brady if someone was coming.
In December 2012, another Little Falls teen was charged for possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, when further investigation into the Smith burglaries led law enforcement to believe he had a Remington 12-gauge shotgun stolen from Smith’s home.
The criminal complaint said an 18-year-old questioned by authorities indicated he had received a shotgun from Jesse Daniel Kriesel, 16, in exchange for a bicycle and an electric garage heater in the first part of November 2012.
When he found out the gun may have been stolen, the 18-year-old told authorities he had asked Kriesel what he thought he should do about it.
He said Kriesel told him, “Don’t tell anything to the cops about it, and I won’t either.”
The gun was recovered and positively identified as the one stolen from Smith’s home in the October burglary.
With permission of his parent, Kriesel gave a voluntary statement to law enforcement.
He denied involvement in the burglaries at Smith’s home, but admitted he had received an old Remington 12-gauge from Brady.
The gun was payment for $130 Kriesel had allegedly given Brady to help purchase two vehicles using other funds stolen from Smith’s residence, he said.
Kriesel said he “honestly didn’t know” if the firearm was or wasn’t stolen and only found out from a friend after he had traded the gun. He told authorities, “He didn’t think nuthin’ of it.”
Kriesel acknowledged he had been at Smith’s residence with Brady earlier in the year to commit a burglary; they didn’t enter the residence, because it appeared someone was home at the time.
As good friends, Kriesel acknowledged he had been at Brady’s home several times in the fall of 2012. At that home, Kriesel allegedly told authorities he had seen seven or eight guns, a couple of which he said he knew came from Smith’s residence.
Other items Kriesel allegedly told law enforcement he saw at Brady’s home and believed were stolen, included a video camera, a high-end digital camera, car stereos, subwoofers, iPods and war medals, the majority of which Kriesel said he believed were taken from Smith’s residence.
He also told officers he was aware of Brady’s multiple burglaries in the summer and fall of 2012.
Kriesel said he stored the shotgun in his home’s garage.
In April 2010, Kriesel was adjudicated delinquent for aiding and abetting burglary in the second degree, considered a crime of violence under Minnesota law. Possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, if committed by an adult, would result in presumptive commitment to prison for five years. Kriesel is ineligible to possess a firearm.
Smith was released on $50,000 bail in mid-December. His next court appearance is set for May 6.
Steve Meshbesher, Smith’s attorney, said the repeated burglaries, where items including guns were stolen and property was damaged, caused great fear in his client, prior to the shootings.
He said any human being with any amount of intelligence would be scared —and would have a legitimate reason to be scared.
“One of the scariest things anyone can experience is fear of the unknown,” he said.
“The problem about the unknown is you don’t know if they’re armed; if they’re going to hurt you; if they’re intoxicated with alcohol and drugs — you don’t know what they’re thinking and you don’t know what their purpose is and that creates fear,” he said.
“Byron is a real straight guy — not a drug user, not an alcoholic — he’s an older version of a Boy Scout,” said Meshbesher. “And he was scared, really scared, because he didn’t know what was going on. He just saw things happening.”
“He didn’t know how may people were even there, didn’t know how many people broke in, didn’t know how many weapons, what kind of weapon,” he said. “This thing was scary stuff. He’d be dead in his own home.
“What’s left if you can’t live safely in your own home?” he said.
“There’s nothing more egregious in our society and western culture than that,” he said.
“One of the things that is a huge component to this case, is fear,” he said. “And that fear is rational.”
Meshbesher said all the facts would come out in court. “I’m going to talk about my version in a courtroom and I’m going to defend my client,” he said.
The facts, he said, would explain what Smith was thinking, what he did and why he did it.
“It’s sad; we wish it wouldn’t have happened, but he did not ask them into his home. It was an uninvited event,” he said.
Smith, said Meshbesher had a wonderful life in front of him, had retired to his childhood home.
“These kids created this,” he said. “We wish this didn’t happen; he didn’t have a sign on the outside of his house saying ‘come in and burglarize me’ for the second, third, fourth time. This is not something he invited or wanted to have happen, but he felt he had to deal with his fears in a legal fashion — the law allows people to protect their lives in their own home.”
The fact that Smith was burglarized multiple times before the shootings will not affect how the case is prosecuted said Morrison County Assistant Attorney Todd Kosovich. “Absolutely not.”
Kosovich will assist Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, who will prosecute Smith.
In reporting the October 2012 burglary, Kosovich said Smith did what he should do. “Call the police and the police conduct an investigation,” he said. “They found out who did it, and they’re being pursued under the judicial system.”
But, he said, “Mr. Smith took the law into his own hands when he murdered those two people on Thanksgiving Day. The fear factor does not affect prosecuting this case — it’s murder plain and simple.”
County Attorney Brian Middendorf would not say whether more charges related to the burglaries were forthcoming, but that his office continues to review cases.
“I intend to prosecute everyone identified as being involved with these burglaries, regardless of whether the person was a direct participant, or was an accomplice after the fact,” he said.
“In my mind, any person who knowingly hides or transfers the proceeds of a theft, is as culpable as the person who stole them. I will continue to review police investigative reports to determine if any additional charges are warranted,” said Middendorf.