Defense of home doesn’t include execution

A jury in Morrison County found Byron Smith guilty of first degree murder on Thursday, in a quick verdict that sends a clear message: In Minnesota, defense of one’s home and property does not give you the right to murder someone.

Smith, in a well publicized case, shot and killed two teenagers, Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, after they broke into his house in rural Little Falls on Thanksgiving Day, 2012. Smith, who had been the victim of other burglaries, waited in his basement until they broke in, then shot Brady three times, and waited ten minutes more for Kifer to descend the stairs. Both teens were killed as they lay wounded on the floor.

Smith’s lawyer argued that Smith was afrraid after the previous break-ins and feared for his life, since firearms had been taken before.

The chilling testimony, including audio tapes Smith had made of the killings, made it clear, however, that Smith had lain in wait and shot his victims after they were no longer a threat.

Much has been made about the fact that the teens were breaking into his house, and had committed other burglaries. If they hadn’t been committing a crime, they would be alive today, Smith’s defenders say.

That’s true, but if Smith had called police when he heard the glass breaking, if he had called for an ambulance after wounding them, they might be alive as well, and serving time in jail.

Instead, Smith acted as an executioner, and will be spending the rest of his life in prison.

It’s a tragic lesson for those who commit burglaries, and for those who defend their homes. Committing burglary is a risky occupation and there’s no guarantee you won’t get shot. But homeowners should know they can’t cross the line from defending their homes and their own safety to shooting helpless, unarmed people to death.

(Editor’s note: The original version of this editorial mistakenly said the trial was in Stearns County.)

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