A Morrison County Grand Jury indicted Byron D. Smith on two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the 2012 Thanksgiving Day shooting deaths of teen cousins Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady.
Each count carries a penalty of life in prison without parole.
The grand jury handed down the sealed indictment Wednesday.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and his First Assistant Brent D. Wartner are handling the case as special assistant Morrison County Attorneys. Orput’s office was called in by Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf to alleviate the burden put on his office by an unprecedented number of murder cases.
Smith, 64, was originally charged with two counts of second-degree murder, when it was discovered he had shot Kifer, 18, and Brady, 17, multiple times during an alleged burglary at his home Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 2012.
The discovery was not made until the following day, Nov. 23, when Smith called a neighbor to ask whether he knew of an attorney.
Smith’s neighbor called the authorities.
Smith was arrested and recounted the events to authorities leading up to the shooting, during which he allegedly admitted he had shot the teens multiple times and put their bodies in another room.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel called it an “execution.”
Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf called the details of the shooting “appalling.”
Smith was held on $2 million bail, which was later reduced to $500,000 by Judge Douglas Anderson.
Smith, represented by Attorney Steve Meshbesher, posted the $50,000 cash bond and was released Dec. 18, 2012.
During the interim, it was discovered Brady and Kifer may have been involved in another area burglary, and that Brady may have been involved in a burglary at Smith’s home in October 2012, where cash and other items, including a gun, were stolen.
A surveillance video and an audio recording of the shootings made by Smith were also found and put into evidence.
Meshbesher said he plans to build a case around the fact that Smith acted in self-defense.
An initial appearance on the indictment was held Thursday before Morrison County District Judge Doug Anderson.
Orput requested that bail be set at $2 million given the nature of the offense and the possible penalties involved.
Judge Anderson kept bail at $50,000 with conditions. The omnibus hearing has been rescheduled from Monday, May 6 to Monday, July 1, at 10 a.m.
“We thank the Grand Jury for their hard work in giving great consideration to the evidence presented and rendering a very considered decision,” said Oput.
“We look forward to proving this case before a Morrison County jury and bringing justice to these two high school students whose lives were so violently and prematurely ended,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of Smith, Meshbesher said he understood that the media has taken a great interest in this case and that extensive coverage would continue.
He said that Tuesday and Wednesday, the grand jury was able “to observe some of the evidence in this case that was chosen for presentation by the prosecuting attorney.”
Meshbesher said Smith looks forward to the time when a jury of 12 people can consider all of the evidence “from both the prosecution and the defense.
“Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer broke into Mr. Smith’s home by shattering a bedroom window with a metal pipe. Mr. Smith did not seek Brady and Kifer out. They sought him by violently breaking into his home on Thanksgiving Day,” Meshbesher said.