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Byron Smith leaves the Morrison County Courtroom Tuesday April 29, 2014 after cl

Byron Smith Trial: Smith found guilty on all murder counts

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

LITTLE FALLS — A jury of six men and six women found Byron Smith guilty of all counts Tuesday in the shooting death of Nick Brady and Haile Kifer.

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Smith had been indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and charged with two counts of second-degree murder following the Thanksgiving Day, 2012, shooting of Brady and Kifer after the pair entered his home without permission.

Smith admitted to authorities that he shot the teens “more times than he should have.”

State prosecutor Pete Orput asked the court to give Smith the maximum sentence allowed by the state of Minnesota. For first-degree murder, the mandatory penalty is life imprisonment.

Orput said Smith should serve consecutive life sentences.

“Each body counts, each murder counts,” Orput told Judge Douglas Anderson. “In the end it may be superfluous, but it’s not for the families.”

Anderson denied Orput’s request for consecutive sentences, saying it would not change the length of the ultimate sentence — Smith is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison regardless.

Following the verdict, family members of Brady and Kifer read victim impact statements before the court.

On behalf of Haile Kifer’s parents, Kifer’s aunt, Laurie Skipper said Smith’s actions were a conscious decision that took Kifer away from her family forever.

She read that the day of the shooting was the worst day of the families’ lives and listening to the audio recording from that day was unbearable.

“You always want to protect your children and we weren’t able to do that,” Skipper read, adding the audio will forever haunt the family.

Nick Brady’s mother, Kimberly Brady, described her son as being kind, big-hearted and eager to learn.

“Not seeing him anymore is a great tragedy, a tremendous sadness that never seems to go away,” she said.

Brady’s grandmother, Bonnie Schaeffel, said when Brady and Kifer entered Smith’s home they made a stupid mistake, but it should not have cost them their lives.

“Haile and Nick should have had consequences so they could learn from their mistakes,” she said. “Mr. Smith took that away from him.”

Jurors deliberated for just over three hours before court administration announced a verdict had been reached.

Smith was remanded into custody immediately after court was adjourned.

A news conference was conducted following the verdict being read. Jurors were allowed to comment to the news media but all declined.

Smith has the right to appeal his conviction and his attorney, Steven Meshbesher said there are many things the jury did not see and that they already working on a case to appeal.

Meshbesher referenced items stolen from Smith’s home, guns allegedly found in Nick Brady’s home, allegations that items at Brady’s home were destroyed before police arrived as well as allegations of drug use.

“There’s a lot of things missing,” Meshbesher said. “To disregard (those things) is wrong ... to get a fair trial without viewing all the evidence is extremely difficult and near impossible to do.”

Meshbesher said he felt the guilty verdict was a wrongful conviction, and he intends to take the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Convictions for first-degree murder are automatically reviewed by the supreme court.

Morrison County sheriff Michel Wetzel opened the press conference held immediately following the verdict being read. He referenced the press conference that was held in the same room on Nov. 26, 2012, days after the shooting occurred.

Wetzel recalled telling the media that this case was not about a person’s right to protect himself in his own home.

“That’s a given,” he said.

Wetzel said the case involves deciding where the limits are before and after a threat occurs.

“In this case a jury has decided there are limits and they’ve decided where they are,” he said. “My office respects the process and we respect the jury’s verdict.”

Orput thanked the Morrison County Sheriff’s office, Morrison County court, court administration and county attorney’s office for their service.

“This has been a very tough, difficult, long ordeal,” he said. “And they all deserve to be thanked.”

Orput said the case was about seeking justice and felt the verdict delivered was just.

“We got it and we’re grateful,” he said, noting that it’s not a sense of triumph that he felt. “I feel a sense of sadness. We’ve got two dead kids — over nothing. Over things ... stuff, property and now they’re dead.”

Orput called the shooting deaths of Brady and Kifer a “senseless, sad pre-meditated murder of two young kids.”

Orput reiterated in the press conference why he motioned for two consecutive life sentences.

“It matters to the families,” Orput said. “I’m not looking for time, I’m not looking to be able to brag that someone got a certain amount of prison time, but I think each one of those children deserves a just sentence.”

Morrison County attorney Brian Middendorf thanked Orput and assistant state prosecutor Brent Wartner for their service to Morrison County. “They did a great service in finding justice for these two young victims,” Middendorf said. “There are no winners in this case — only losers. It’s a terrible tragedy all around.

Brady’s grandfather, Steve Schaeffel, represented the family in addressing the media. Schaeffel said Smith took something from his family that can never be replaced.

“These kids made a dumb mistake,” he said. “I have made huge stupid mistakes in my life, but I’m alive to talk about it. Justice was served today in the verdict.”

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

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