Neighbors, friends, say Smith was frightened and scared after burglaries

Byron Smith
Byron Smith

Brian-Paul Crowder and Bill and Georgia Anderson testified Friday afternoon, that Byron Smith was concerned, frightened and scared after an Oct. 27, 2012 burglary at his home, which the Andersons said had not been the first.

Smith, 65, is being tried on two counts of first-degree murder for shooting Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after the two broke into his Little Falls home.

Bill and Georgia have lived near the Smith home for more than 30 years and knew Smith’s parents and helped his mother when she was alone.

Crowder said he knew Smith’s mother, Ida, as well and met Smith when he requested some deeds at the Oakland Cemetery. Crowder said after he put two and two together, he told Smith he really enjoyed his mother and complimented Smith on his river property and Smith invited Crowder to visit his home.

Crowder said he and his mother stopped by the Saturday before Thanksgiving 2012, while on another errand. He rang the doorbell twice with no answer. He knocked.

“Byron approached and came to the door and he looked very afraid,” said Crowder.

Crowder said when he introduced himself, Smith looked relieved and invited Crowder in. Smith gave the two a tour of his property in the Crowders’ SUV.

“Byron sat in the back seat and mother I were in the front,” said Crowder. “He gave us quite a tour of the property, about 10 – 11 acres if I remember right. He had purchased property north of Bob Muske’s home.” Crowder said they drove around the outside of the property, close to the river and saw where Smith had hired help to help clear under the trees.

“Throughout the whole ride he was terribly worried, because he had been broken into so many times,” said Crowder. “Mother and I had concerns about that because we had those issues. He said he’d called law enforcement, but nothing had been done.

“He was visibly upset,” said Crowder. “I could tell by his demeanor he was terribly upset and concerned.”

When reading of the shootings in a newspaper that said Smith allegedly had break-ins, Crowder said, “Mother and I were concerned, because we knew he had told us this had happened.”

Crowder called the Sheriff’s Department and reported their visit with Smith and several days later he was asked to give a statement.

Bill Anderson, who said he lived but all of six years of his life in Little Falls, said he had known the Byron Smith family for about 40 years.

“I knew Mr. Smith’s mother and father real well — they live just down the street from where we live and when everybody was gone, we (Bill and his wife, Georgia) were kind of the caregivers,” he said.

Bill said he knew of previous burglaries at Smith’s home, as well as the Oct. 27, 2012 burglary.

During that burglary, less than a month prior to the shootings, Smith reported to law enforcement a list of items taken, including two guns — a mini-14 Ruger and a .22 revolver.

Anderson said Oct. 27 was a beautiful Saturday. He had gone to work in the morning, came home and spent the evening at a birthday party for his grandchildren. Early the next morning, Bill said there was someone at the door. “My wife said, ‘Who do you suppose could be here so early in the morning?’ … It was Byron,” he said.

Bill said Smith’s emotional state was “not well.”

“He looked like he hadn’t slept at all,” and wanted to talk, said Bill. “He was severely frightened.”

At that point, Bill said he had known nothing of previous burglaries, but Smith described them that morning.

“He pretty much said at that point, that that particular one (Oct. 27, 2012) was number five or six,” Bill said.

Bill said the burglaries Smith told him of were at his home, his shop and a house in the woods, a rental property he owns.

Bill’s wife of 43 years, Georgia, testified, “The morning he came to our house, I didn’t even hardly recognize him. He looked very upset and fearful and shaky, not like the Byron I knew.”

When the prosecution asked her if Smith seem angry, she said, “scared or frightened” were the words she would use. She said she didn’t know why he was scared or frightened until he told them what had happened.

“Everybody has a different look when they’re scared,” she said. “His eyes looked like he hadn’t been sleeping.”

The day after the shootings, Nov. 23, 2012, Bill said he and Smith “played telephone tag for maybe an hour.” When he said that Smith had called, he called him back, about 12:30 p.m.

When he spoke with Smith, Bill said Smith asked him if he could find Smith a lawyer.

Anderson said he called several offices in Little Falls, several in Brainerd and some in St. Cloud. “That particular day was the Black Friday after Thanksgiving and I got one firm to answer the phone,” he said.

Bill called the residence of Little Falls attorney Greg Larson and left a message for him to call back.

When he didn’t have any luck finding a lawyer, Bill said Smith told him to call the sheriff’s office and try to get in touch with the officer who had investigated the Oct. 27 burglary. Bill did so and was told by dispatch that the officer would be on duty about 6 p.m. and would get in touch with him.

Bill said the last contact he had with Smith Nov. 23, 2012, was when he called him back to tell him he had made contact with the sheriff’s department.

The prosecution questioned whether Smith had told Bill, “He’d blown the case wide open” during their conversations the day after the shootings.

Bill said Smith had said he’d solved the break-ins in the neighborhood.

The prosecution asked whether Smith had told Bill he was going somewhere Thanksgiving Day. Bill said he knew Smith was going somewhere, but not really where.

Prosecutor Brent Wartner asked Bill if he recalled Smith saying the day after the Oct. 27, 2012 burglary,  “The dog will come to the dish again. I know this isn’t over yet.”

Bill testified that he had said that, not Smith and that is what he had testified to before the grand jury. “I went through the same thing with the grand jury … the statement came from me” he said pointing to his chest. “Not Mr. Smith.”

Wartner asked whether he was correcting a statement he made during a December 2012 visit with defense investigator Ross Rolshoven. Bill said he couldn’t remember everything within the last 17 months.

In response to Wartner’s questioning, Bill said he remembered telling Smith he had seen a neighbor girl wearing Smith’s Air Force jacket on her way to the bus. The jacket, Wartner indicated, had been stolen in the 1990s.

Wartner also asked if Bill had told Smith she had people watching Smith’s house to see when he would come and go.

“I had a great suspicion, yes,” said Bill. He said he also believed the girl’s parents were watching Smith’s home as well.

Jurors spend most of the day in the jury room, not the courtroom
With several delays, including one for three hours waiting for a witness, and another hour-plus delay to make 100-plus copies of photos taken by defense investigator Ross Rolshoven of Great Plains Claim Inc. of Grand Forks, N.D., witnesses testified for just a couple of hours.

Before the first three-hour break, Morrison County Deputy Jamie Luberts finished his testimony regarding the Oct. 27, 2012 break-in at Smith’s home.

Meshbesher went over with Luberts, the list of items taken including a $3,300 camera from B&H of New York, a camera lens purchased in Tokyo in 2009, gold coins valued at several thousand dollars purchased by Smith’s brother Bruce, a man’s gold ring and an envelope with cash.

All stolen items were included in a document provided to Luberts by Smith several days after the break-in. Luberts said he didn’t personally recover any of the property, and that he didn’t remember if pawn shops had been checked for the items and didn’t know if an investigator had.

When Meshbesher asked if Luberts had been aware of Brady’s vehicle being parked near Smith’s home Nov. 22, 2012, Luberts said he had heard that it had been and that it had been searched.

Meshbesher questioned Luberts about a panel kicked out of a door during the October 2012 burglary, which had markings like shoe prints. Although Luberts hadn’t taken the panel, he indicated Smith brought the panel to the sheriff’s office a couple of days later.

Prosecutor Peter Orput asked Luberts  about a follow-up visit he made at Smith’s home Nov. 16, 2012. Luberts said he had asked Smith if he had any more information to help in the investigation. He said Smith talked about the security cameras he had set up in the front and back of the residence.

Luberts said Smith told him he wanted to set up security outside his driveway,but had no electricity and Luberts gave advice on trail cameras.

Luberts set Smith indicated he worked for the State Department setting up security and showed him his equipment. Luberts said it was elaborate for a home security system. Luberts said Smith told him he had been sticking close to his property to try to catch whoever had been breaking in, and that he said there had been one incident prior to Oct. 27. Luberts said he told Smith if he did catch somebody, to report it to the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Michel Wetzel took the stand briefly to answer questions from Defense Attorney Adam Johnson about photos he had taken of a rifle, Nov. 29, 2012. Wetzel had been led by a person who had come into possession of a stolen shotgun to a swampy secluded area in Bellevue Township, about 180 yards west of a road on a wooded trail. The shotgun was found covered with grass and snow, was the same type stolen from Smith’s home during the October 2012 burglary.

The last witness of the day, with less than an hour before the set 4:30 p.m. adjournment was Rolshoven, who said he’d been investigating the Smith case for the defense and had first inspected the property Dec. 6, 2012.

Rolshoven described a map of the area of Smith’s property, including an area at the intersection of Smith Avenue and Riverwood Drive where Brady’s car had been found, as well as a myriad of photos he had taken around Smith’s property, to document the area and damage done during alleged burglaries, some in 2012.

The photos documented areas on property owned by Smith, the inside and outside of Smith’s home, Smith’s driveway, a gravel path parallel to the driveway that Rolshoven said could be used to access Smith’s property and a view of an easement road toward a neighbor’s residence.

Once jurors had been excused for the day, Judge Douglas Anderson told attorneys that, as established during pretrial discovery, since Smith was not aware of individuals breaking into his home, testimony about who the people were who had broken in was irrelevant.

The judge also asked that “Any other mass exhibits you intend to use are premarked so we don’t waste the jury’s time. Make sure I’ve seen them and get them premarked.

“Let’s not waste the jury’s time,” he said.

The trial will continue Monday, April 28, at 9 a.m.