By: Victoria Chavez
On October 3, 1789, George Washington issued his Thanksgiving proclamation, designating for “the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving” to be held on “Thursday the 26th day of November,” Since then, Americans have celebrated every Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. Most citizens spend the day eating and enjoying the company of their loved ones, but for the families of two Little Fall teens, their day was spent in disbelief and sadness.
The Byron David Smith killings occurred on Thanksgiving Day of 2012, when Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17, broke into the home of Bryon Smith, 64, in Little Falls, Minnesota. Smith was retired from the U.S. State Department, was never married, and had always lived alone. Prior to the murders of the teens, Smith’s home had been burglarized at least half a dozen times over the last few months. He had only reported one previous burglary to the police, and investigators only found evidence of two previous burglaries. These burglaries sparked anxiety in Smith and led him to begin wearing a holster with a loaded gun in his home, as well as stashing water bottles and granola bars in the basement.
On November 22, 2012, Smith drove his vehicle down the road, parking it in front of a neighbor’s home. Later that day, Kifer and Brady broke into Smith’s home. Video surveillance captured the teens looking around the property prior to the break-in. From Smith’s own account he told police when he saw Kifer, who he suspected was responsible for the burglaries, driving towards his home, Smith turned on a recording device he owned. When he returned to his home, Smith removed the lightbulbs from the ceiling lights and positioned himself in a chair that was obscured from view. He then waited 12 minutes until he heard Nick Brady break into his basement. Smith shot Brady twice on the stairs, and once in the head after he fell to the bottom of the stairs. Smith then made taunting remarks to Brady’s body, wrapped it in a tarp and dragged him into another room.
Smith then went upstairs, and 10–15 minutes later, he ran back down into the basement, reloaded his weapon and took up his previous position in the obscured chair. Minutes later, Kifer entered the home and could be heard calling her cousin’s name. As she made her way down the stairs, Smith shot her. She fell down the stairs and Smith can be heard on the recording saying “Oh, sorry about that” after his gun jams, followed by Kifer saying “Oh, my God” very quickly; Smith shoots her again, multiple times in the torso, in the midst of which she screams “Oh, my god!” He repeatedly called her derogatory names and then dragged her into the other room, tossing her body on top of her cousin’s, and shot her one final time under the chin, killing her. Audio and video of the events were recorded by Smith’s security system. The deaths were not immediately reported to police. Smith waited until the next day to notify police of the shootings, claiming he “didn’t want to bother the police on Thanksgiving.”
This case sparked the debate about the Castle Doctrine. Legal analysts have stated that the initial shootings most likely would have been justified under Minnesota’s laws, but that the extra shots were not justified once any threat had been removed. A number of aspects of the case were noted by police as being inconsistent with self-defense. Smith had moved his truck earlier in the day, claiming he had done so in order to clean his garage. Prosecutors argued at his trial that it was an attempt to make the house look abandoned in order to lure the burglars into his home. In addition to his home surveillance system, Smith also recorded at least 6 hours of audio on a digital recorder in the basement of the residence. Prior to the break-in, he is heard saying “In your left eye.” and “I realize I don’t have an appointment but I would like to see one of the lawyers here.” These comments raised suspicion due to the fact that Kifer was shot in the left eye and he later did request a lawyer. On April 29, 2014, Smith was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder with premeditation and on two counts of second-degree murder after three hours of jury deliberations.
Many still defend Byron Smith and believe it was his right to shoot the trespassers. Others think justice was served to a cold hearted man that did not see past his evil. One thing is for sure though, two young souls were lost that day, and with them went the love and joy of those who got the chance to know them.