Tragedy in Little Falls: More connections to victims surface from jury pool
LITTLE FALLS — Jury selection continued Tuesday in the Byron Smith murder case in Morrison County. By the end of the day Tuesday the total number of selected jurors was 10.
Smith admitted in November 2012 to shooting two teenagers, Nick Brady and Haile Kifer, after the pair allegedly entered Smith’s home without permission.
As potential jurors continued to be interviewed, one by one, various connections to the victims emerged.
One prospective juror said his son is currently — and was at the time of the shooting — dating Kifer’s cousin. He told the court he never met Kifer, but had discussed the case with his son and “heard things” about Nick Brady and Kifer.
“That they used some drugs and stuff like that,” he said.
The juror said he had formed some opinions about this case. “It usually doesn’t happen — things like this in a small town,” he said. When Anderson told the man he would have to disregard anything he had previously heard about the case and be impartial, the man said he did not think he could do that. “I don’t think I’m the right person for this,” he said.
Another prospective juror said he is a casual friend of Kifer’s maternal grandparents and didn’t believe he could be impartial in the case.
The man told the court he was bothered by the fact that Smith did not immediately contact authorities after the shooting. “If he’d called the authorities sooner it would have probably turned out different,” he said.
According to the criminal report, the shooting occurred midday Thanksgiving Day 2012, and Smith contacted a neighbor the next day who then contacted the authorities.
The juror said he did not think he could keep an open mind in the case and wasn’t sure he could stand looking at or hearing the evidence surrounding the shooting. “That’s something different if you’re a law officer — that’s their job,” he said. “I don’t think I can handle it though.”
Several other jurors said they took issue with the time which allegedly passed before the authorities were contacted after the shooting, including one who said she was an acquaintance of Kifer’s sister.
A fourth prospective juror said his son-in-law was related to both victims.
The court asked if jurors could set aside their knowledge of the case and be impartial. “Everybody’s probably got an opinion,” state prosecutor Pete Orput said to one juror. “Could you set that aside?”
Several jurors, answering under oath, said they could not set aside their beliefs about the case.
Other jurors felt the emotion of the case could be too much. When asked if she wanted to serve on the jury, one juror responded, “I’ve had a lot of death in my life, and I’d rather not.”
Other jurors stated they would like to serve as a juror, citing civic duty and interest in the case. “It’s not like I was seeking this out,” one selected juror said. “But I was summoned.”
By the noon lunch break, one juror, a man, was selected in addition to the four women and two men selected Monday.
In all four jurors — two men and two women — were selected Tuesday; bringing the total number of selected jurors to 10.
There was other action taken by the court, earlier this week.
Motions filed prior to jury selection have been decided on by the court, including whether physical evidence — specifically a shoe belonging to Brady — should be released by the prosecutor for third party investigation. At Smith’s pre-trial hearing in March, defense attorney Steven Meshbesher told the court the defense believed the shoe might match that of a print found on a door panel removed form Smith’s home as evidence in a previous break-in. The motion to release the shoe was denied.
A motion to suppress evidence regarding the last gunshot to Haile Kifer was denied. Smith described the final gunshot fired at Kifer as occurring “after she was on the tarp [while] she was still gasping.”
The final gunshot evidence will be allowed in trial.
The defense presented “spark of life” evidence including several photos of Nick Brady retrieved from Facebook holding firearms. The motion of the court states the intention to keep the testimony “factual, brief and neutral.” The Facebook photos were ruled as inadmissible.
The court ruled that references made to Brady and Kifer should not include “children” or “kids” from both counsel and witness, including the victims’ parents. They may be referred to by name or as “teenagers”, and “my son” and “my daughter” by their parents, respectively.
Evidence of prior break-ins allegedly committed by Brady was ruled irrelevant to the case. The court’s response to the motion to allow such evidence stated: “The fact that the defendant’s home was burglarized a month before the shooting is relevant on the issue concerning the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the shooting and the reasonableness of his action. The fact the Nick Brady may have committed the burglary is not.”
Witnesses subpoenaed by the defense include the parents of Nick Brady, Jason and Kim Brady, law enforcement officers, and Jesse Kriesel who is incarcerated in Minnesota Correctional Facility in Red Wing for an unrelated crime.
Court documents show at some point Kriesel was in possession of a 12-gauge shotgun that was stolen from Smith’s residence.
Kriesel received the gun from Brady, but says he had no knowledge of Brady’s intent to burglarize Smith’s home.
Kriesel will testify to chain of custody of the stolen shotgun.
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.