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Jury selection begins in Byron Smith murder trial

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

LITTLE FALLS — Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of Byron Smith of rural Little Falls. Smith admitted in November 2012 to shooting two teenagers, Nick Brady and Haile Kifer, after the pair allegedly entered Smith’s home without permission.

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Judge Douglas Anderson said the ultimate question in the case was whether Smith’s action in shooting the teens multiple times was within the scope of the law that allows individuals to protect their home with lethal force while preventing a felony from being committed and danger is perceived.

“The fact that (Smith) has been brought before the court does not and should not show guilt,” Anderson said.

The court questioned jurors one at a time with questions of the jurors’ understanding of the law, how close they have followed the case, if they owned firearms and if they thought it was fair to assume the defendant innocent until proven guilty.

Anderson informed jurors it was not important that they be ignorant of the facts and issues only that they were able to “lay aside their impressions and opinions.”

Defense attorney Steven Meshbesher asked jurors not to take offense by any of the questions asked as he inquired about their upbringing, their experiences with serving as a juror, if they had been or knew anyone who had been victim or a crime, or if they had any difficulty find Smith innocent until proven guilty.

“I would follow the law,” one juror said.

In the midst of questioning the first juror selected, Meshbesher assured the woman he did not want to scare her. “You already did that,” the juror responded.

When Meshbesher asked one selected juror if he would feel comfortable using a weapon if he was attacked in his own home, the man responded, “If I had no way out, absolutely.”

Meshbesher asked jurors if they would be able to sit and listen to all of the evidence — possibly weeks’ worth of evidence — before making their decision about Smith’s guilt or innocence.

Meshbesher asked every juror selected if they would have a difficult time listening to evidence that involved the deaths of two teenagers including audio and video recordings.

State prosecutor Peter Orput asked few questions of the jurors, his main question being if the state proved their case, would the juror be able to find the defendant guilty? All jurors selected responded yes. “Do you know what a murderer looks like,” he asked. When jurors responded no, Orput asserted, “Could look like any of us, right?”

Two jurors were excluded because of their proximity to the case — one a distant relative of both victims and the other the funeral director who embalmed Brady and Kifer’s bodies.

Outside the courtroom, Meshbesher told reporters Smith’s home was broken into before the November 2012 shooting. Meshbesher said the element of fear will be the focus of the defense in regard to whether or not Smith’s action fell within the legal limits of self-defense.

“When you’re scared to death you don’t always do what the law says technically to do,” he said. In regards to whether Smith would take the stand in the trial, Meshbesher gave no comment, only saying it would be Smith’s decision.

By the end of the day Monday, from among 20 candidates interviewed, six jurors were selected — four women and two men.

Anderson, who will preside over Smith’s trial, asked prospective jurors to refrain from seeking out information about the case in upcoming or past news stories. “The entire story has not been told,” Anderson told the first juror selected. “It’s going to be told in the courtroom.”

Smith’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday, April 21.

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

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