Neighbor: Little Falls Man Fearful After Burglaries

Updated: 04/26/2014 8:02 AM By: Beth McDonough

Byron Smith, center, comes out of a Morrison County courtroom in Little Falls, Minn., Monday.
Byron Smith, center, comes out of a Morrison County courtroom in Little Falls, Minn., Monday.
Photo: Photo: AP/St. Cloud Times, Jason Wachter

A Minnesota man who killed two teenagers after they broke into his home had reason to believe he was in danger because a gun was stolen from his home, his attorney argued Friday in front of a crowded courtroom.

Byron Smith, of Little Falls, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Haile Kifer and Kifer's cousin, 17-year-old Nick Brady, on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Smith, 65, claimed he was defending himself and feared for his life after several break-ins at his home.

On Friday, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel was asked about an incident where a "mystery man" led him to a shotgun stolen from Smith's home. The shotgun was found in a secluded swamp area.

Steve Meshbesher, Smith's attorney, said Smith was worried someone could come back to his home and shoot him with his own gun.   

Smith was alone when the teens broke in and didn't alert anyone about the shootings until the next day.

The neighbor who called police also testified Friday. He said Smith asked him over the phone to call an attorney and said "I may have solved the break-ins."

The neighbor also said a month before the shootings, Smith had gone to the neighbor's home and was upset. It was around this time Smith had firearms stolen from his home. The neighbor said the pair talked about how break-ins were a problem.

Since the deadly shootings, evidence has emerged linking Brady and Kifer to other burglaries around Little Falls.  It’s an earlier theft of war medals from Smith's place that irritates Joe Poeppel, like Smith he's a veteran too.

"You earn war medals you don't buy them, anybody steals them wants to sell them for a buck a piece, that's blasphemy, the guy earned them, dirty damn shame as far as I'm concerned," Poeppel said.

Jurors were given the weekend off and sent home. They were not sequestered, but they've been instructed not to read, watch or listen to anything related to coverage of the trial. That means no newspapers, TV coverage or social media.

Testimony is expected to resume Monday morning, with closing arguments expected early next week.