The defense for Byron Smith rested its case this morning (Monday, April 28), just before 11 a.m., presenting just three witnesses. Investigator Ross Rolshoven, who completed his testimony started Friday, Smith’s brother Bruce, and two neighbors, John Dillon Lange, 16, and his mother, Kathleen Lange.
Smith, 65, was first charged with second-degree murder, then indicted on first-degree premeditated murder charges, for shooting Nick Brady and Haile Kifer multiple times when he said they broke into his home 17 months ago, Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 2012.
The defense maintains that Smith shot the teen cousins in self-defense and in defense of his home. The prosecution presented evidence to prove its case that he went beyond what the law allows.
Smith, as is his Constitutional right, chose not to testify on his own behalf.
At 1 p.m., the jury returned to their seats to hear Judge Douglas Anderson’s final instructions.
In giving the jurors final instructions, Judge Douglas Anderson explained the four charges against Smith, as well as telling jurors to pack a bag, as they will be sequestered during deliberations. If jurors are not able to come to a unanimous consensus by the end of the day, the jurors will be put up at a hotel and will continue the next day.
Judge Anderson told the jurors, “It is your duty to decide the questions of fact in this case. It is my duty to give you the law you must apply in arriving at a verdict. … Deciding questions of fact is your exclusive responsibility.”
The jurors, said the judge, must consider all of the evidence they had seen and heard in the trial. “Disregard what you have seen or heard elsewhere,” he said.
The judge further cautioned the jurors that the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that assumption of innocence stays with the defendant. The fact that he is on trial is not an indication of guilt, said Anderson, nor is the fact that Smith exercised his right not to testify.
In order to return a verdict of guilty or not guilty, the jury’s decision must be unanimous said the judge. “Decide the case for yourself, but only after discussing the case with fellow jurors,” he said, cautioning them not to surrender their honest opinion simply because others don’t agree or “just to come to a verdict.”
The jurors, he said, were not to concern themselves with evidence stricken or evidence they were told to disregard.
Jurors will be allowed to take with them any notes they took during the course of the trial, but the judge asked them to rely on their recollection of the evidence, as opposed to their notes or the notes of another juror.
Judge Anderson told the jurors the arguments or remarks of an attorney are not evidence, nor are the judge’s statements of evidence. “Rely on your memory,” he said.
As far as the witness testimony, Anderson told the jurors to take into consideration a witness’s interest in the case and to rely upon their own experiences and good judgment. Expert opinions offered were no more important than other evidence presented, he said.
Jurors were instructed to look at each fact and each charge separately — the verdict of guilty or not guilty would be made on each of the charges.
The jury was instructed to rely on what they heard in the audio played for them, not on the transcript of the audio they were provided with. Jurors would not be able to take the transcripts with them into deliberation.
The judge told the jurors that the charts and diagrams were used to aid in presenting the evidence, but they were to determine the facts from the underlying evidence, not just from the charts.
The two counts on each charge included one for the death of Nick Brady and one for the death of Haile Kifer.
In explaining the charges, Judge Anderson outlined them.
Counts 1 and 2: First-degree, premeditated murder
Minnesota Statutes provides that whoever, with premeditation, causes the death of another with intent to effect the death of the person is guilty of first-degree murder. On each count of the first-degree murder, the judge said the following elements must be present: 1) the death of the person must be proven; 2) the defendant caused the death; 3) the defendant acted with intent to kill the deceased; and 4) the defendant acted with premeditation — the defendant considered, planned, prepared for or determined the act.
Anderson said premeditation is an act of the mind and can be conferred from all the circumstances surrounding the event. An unconsidered act or rash impulse is not premeditation he said.
“If you find each of these elements has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Anderson told the jurors they must find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. If any of the elements had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the jurors must find the defendant not guilty.
Counts 3 and 4: Second-degree murder
Minnesota Statute provides that whoever with intent to cause intent to death of another person, but without premeditation causes the death of a human being is guilty of second degree murder. The elements of second degree murder include: 1) death must be proven; 2) the defendant caused the death; 3) the defendant acted with the intent to kill, with the purpose of causing death or believed the act would have that result.
Once again, the judge noted that if the jury found that each of the elements had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict had to be not guilty.
Explanation of self-defense and defense of dwelling
The judge described what constituted self defense and defense of dwelling to the jurors as well.
No crime is committed when a person takes the life of another, even intentionally, if act done to prevent great bodily harm to be done to them. The judge said the killing must be done in the belief that it was necessary to the average person and the election to defend must have been met as a reasonable person. As far as defense, under Minnesota law, no crime is committed if a killing is done when a person is defending their home, including to prevent the commission of a felony in their home; that the judgment was reasonable and the defendant’s judgment to defend his dwelling was made as a reasonable person. In this situation, the defendant has not duty to retreat.
The jury will decide whether Smith is guilty or not guilty on each of the four counts individually.
Judge Anderson told the jurors that when the attorneys give their closing arguments (beginning Tuesday, April 29, at 9 a.m.), the arguments provide no evidence, but gives the attorneys a chance to interpret for the jurors what the evidence shows.
Once again, the judge cautioned the jurors that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable, he said, “Is such that ordinarily prudent men and women would act upon in their most important affairs. … It doesn’t meant beyond all possibility of doubt.”