Jurors told to pack bags for sequestration as defense rests in Smith murder trial

Byron Smith, left, and his defense attorney Steve Meshbesher exited the court Monday afternoon after the judge dismissed the courtroom until 9 a.m. Tuesday, when closing arguments would be heard.

Byron Smith, left, and his defense attorney Steve Meshbesher exited the court Monday afternoon after the judge dismissed the courtroom until 9 a.m. Tuesday, when closing arguments would be heard.

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.

Steve Schaeffel, Nick Brady's grandfather and spokesman for the family, was surrounded by the media Monday afternoon, when court was adjourned until Tuesday morning for closing arguments. He called the six days of the trial "brutal" for the families.

Steve Schaeffel, Nick Brady’s grandfather and spokesman for the family, was surrounded by the media Monday afternoon, when court was adjourned until Tuesday morning for closing arguments. He called the six days of the trial “brutal” for the families.

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.”

  • cadabra

    For me, it’s a question of deciding if there is sufficient evidence that Smith was completely gripped with abject fear and trepidation such that he felt compelled to shoot intruders to save himself. If the evidence of his shooting actions show he was saving himself in a completely defensive manner, with no options or opportunity to mitigate the situation otherwise (i.e. he was “trapped”) then I would argue for a not guilty verdict.

    However, if the evidence shows he had a cool, rational demeanor (little or no fear), and that he knew he had options other than shooting to assure his own safety (dial 911), I would argue that it was his conscious, cold indifference that compelled him to shoot, knowing he could use the law as a crutch. That’s murder, plain and simple, and I’d argue strongly for a guilty verdict.

    Did the attorneys bring light and vision to these points during the trial?

  • cadabra

    Vince –
    This case has nothing to do with assigning guilt to parents; nor with laying a County’s guilt on Byron Smith. Lacking Mr. Smith’s own testimony, It is merely a process of the jury taking a judgement of his state of mind at the time he shot those two people.

    If Smith did not feel terribly threatened, and if he knew he had non-lethal ways of dealing with the situation but ignored them, he is guilty of first degree murder. If he was truly ignorant of his options but acted on the basis of pure fear alone for his own life, he is guilty of murder to a lower degree.

    Hate, stupidity, brazen pride and ruthlessness also probably play into the mix of thoughts that drove Smith. All of those misguided emotions paint him with the tar-brush of guilt.

  • josh

    I agree he went to far but if they wouldn’t have robbed him again they would still be alive today. they aren’t little angles like the news makes them out to be. They robbed him multiple times,, they robbed others as well. He let these kids practice their music in his garage, he paid them to help with yard work. But yet they torment him by robbing him of guns and money and whatever else. they robbed him of his trust in them. This was a lose lose situation for everyone. He should have called 911 right away, they should never have taken advantage of his kindness to them. They got there justice for robbing and now Byron is getting his for going to far. I do not agree though that he shouod have been found guilty of 1st degree murder. He would have had to know that they were going to rob him for him to plan it. So were these 2 kids that much of serial robbers?

    • Sully

      These kids did something stupid. They decided to break into a house. They deserved punishment, not death.
      He waited for them. When he heard them trying to break in, he hid in the basement and waited for them to come downstairs so he could shoot him.
      Sounds pretty premeditated to me.

      • josh

        In order for it to be pre meditated he had to know they would rob him again. So either he knew the time and day he would be robbed or he was willing to wait days, weeks, months, years for them to rob him again. This goes to show that they were serial robbers. I agreed that he went to far and I don’t believe they deserved death. Like I said there were no winners in this case. I still stand firm on my opinion that he should not have been charged with first degree on the basis that he would have to have known with an absolute certainty these same kids would rob him again.
        Many people have loaded guns for home protection in the case of kids or people like Brady or Kifer break into their home. If they ran at you, weapon or no weapon and shoot is it pre-meditated murder because you had a loaded weapon ready in the case that this happened? No one can possibly know that they will be robbed, in Smiths case he had been robbed so many times he was probably more prepared for it but you or I couldn’t pre-meditate a murder that you don’t know will ever happen.

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