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A family member cries during a news conference Monday at the Morrison

Little Falls shooting: Smith charged with two counts of second-degree murder

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LITTLE FALLS — A rural Little Falls man was charged Monday with two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of two teenagers who allegedly broke into his home Thanksgiving Day. Byron David Smith is accused of killing two cousins, 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nicholas Brady Schaeffel, Thursday in his home near Little Falls.

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Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf called the events on Thanksgiving Day a “terrible tragedy for the whole community.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said Monday.

Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel described at a news conference Monday the events leading up to the arrest of the 64-year-old Smith last Friday.

Wetzel said that at 1 p.m. Friday, sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of suspicious activity reported at the home of Smith in rural Little Falls. Smith’s neighbor contacted authorities and told them he was concerned that Smith may have killed someone in his home. According to the criminal complaint, Smith had contacted the neighbor and asked for a reference for a lawyer. When the neighbor could not assist Smith in obtaining a lawyer, Smith said he asked the neighbor to call law enforcement.

Smith acknowledged that he never attempted to call law enforcement himself. Wetzel said Smith told investigators he “didn’t want to bother the sheriff on the holiday.”

When officers arrived at Smith’s home, Smith immediately told the deputies that he had shot and killed two people who he said had broken into his home Thursday. Smith showed the deputies downstairs to the basement where the deputies located the bodies, later identified as 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nicholas Brady Schaeffel.

Smith was detained at his home and later taken into custody.

Smith told investigators that he shot the teens as they came downstairs into his basement workshop.

The criminal complaint stated Smith told investigators that around noon on Thursday, two people had broken into his residence through a window. Smith was sitting in his basement when he heard footsteps around his house leading him to believe someone was attempting to get inside. Smith heard a window break in the upstairs of his residence and then footsteps walking down the hall. Smith said he shot Schaeffel as he was descending the basement stairs, then fired again into the teen’s face as he lay on the floor looking at him. Smith was quoted in the complaint as telling an investigator, “I want him dead.”

Smith told investigators that he put Nicholas Brady Schaeffel’s body on a tarp and dragged the body into his basement workshop before returning to his chair.

A few minutes later, Smith said he once again heard footsteps on the main floor of his home and then saw Haile Kifer descending his basement stairs. Smith waited until Kifer was halfway down the steps and then shot her. He said Kifer tumbled down the steps to the basement floor. Smith attempted to fire another shot at Kifer, however his mini 14 rifle jammed and he was unable to. Smith told investigators that Kifer laughed at him and acknowledged that her laughter upset him.

“If you’re trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again,” Smith said in the complaint.

Smith then pulled a .22 caliber revolver he was carrying and shot Kifer several times in the chest.

Sheriff Wetzel made clear in the news conference Monday that Minnesota law allows a homeowner to use deadly force against an intruder, if there is reasonable fear that they may be in harm, however, Wetzel said defending one’s home does not allow them to go beyond the law.

Smith told investigators that he fired “more shots than I needed to.”

Smith said he then dragged Kifer’s body into the office workshop and placed her body next to Schaeffel. Smith said that Kifer was still gasping for air so he shot her under the chin in what he described as “a good, clean finishing shot.”

He told investigators that he wanted to end her suffering.

Smith acknowledged to investigators that he knew neither of the deceased were armed, but maintained that he was fearful the entire time that they may have had a weapon.

Smith’s brother, Bruce Smith, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that the incident was the eighth burglary at Byron Smith’s home in recent years.

The only report the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office has for a break-in at the home was for one on Oct. 27. It shows Byron Smith reported losing cash and gold coins worth $9,200, plus two guns worth $200 each, photo equipment worth more $3,000 and a ring worth $300. The Little Falls Police Department had no other records of burglaries at the home.

Bruce Smith told the Star Tribune on Sunday that the break-ins had left his brother, a former State Department security officer, feeling vulnerable and afraid.

Sheriff Wetzel said that a person is within their right to use deadly force if it’s necessary to protect himself from death or bodily harm or to prevent a felony in their home.

“We understand that,” Wetzel said. “We know that that right exists. What happened in this case, though, is it went further than that.

“When it becomes clear that nobody can continue to commit a felony in your home, you are no longer entitled to take a life,” Wetzel said.

While authorities say Smith’s actions exceeded reasonable self-defense, Sheriff Wetzel asked that people not rush into judgment. “Let the investigation continue,” Wetzel said. “Let all the facts come out in court.

“Mr. Smith is entitled to a fair process.”

Smith is being held in the Morrison County Jail on $2 million bond or $200,000 cash bail without conditions, or $1 million bond or $100,000 cash bail under the condition he surrender his passport, any firearms he may have, remain law abiding and remain in the state of Minnesota. Sheriff Wetzel said the next court date has not yet been set but that Smith has waived his right to a speedy trial.

(This story contains information for the Associated Press).

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at sarah.nelsonkatzenberger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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