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New details emerge in Little Falls shooting; Smith's bail reduced

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LITTLE FALLS — New details about the nature of the shooting deaths of Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer surfaced Monday as Morrison County prosecutor Todd Kosovich argued against the bail reduction motion presented by the defense team of defendant Byron Smith.

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Smith, charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the Thanksgiving Day shooting at his home in rural Little Falls, asked the Morrison County District Court judge to reduce his set bail in Monday’s hearing. Smith’s bail amount, filed Nov. 26, was set at $2 million bond or $200,000 cash without condition or $1 million bond or $100,000 cash with the condition Smith surrender his passport, any firearms, remain law abiding and agree to remain in Minnesota.

Smith was present at the hearing with his defense attorney Steven Meshbesher. Also present was Smith’s brother, Bruce Smith, and neighbors, John Lange and William Anderson, who attended the hearing in support of Smith.

“They’re here to support him,” Meshbesher told the court.

Filling the rest of courtroom were friends and family members of the victims and other Smith supporters.

Meshbesher requested Smith’s bail be reduced to 10 percent of the amount set by the court — $200,000 bond or $20,000 cash without condition, or $100,000 bond or $10,000 cash with the conditions given by the state.

Meshbesher told Judge Douglas P. Anderson he felt the bail amount was excessive and prohibitive both under Minnesota and federal law.

“As the court knows there is a constitution that we have to follow,” Meshbesher told the court. “That constitution prevents excessive bail.”

Meshbesher argued the purpose of bail is to ensure a defendant will appear in court or to ensure the safety of any person — including the defendant — and should not be dictated by emotion. Meshbesher said the safety of victims was not an issue because they were unfortunately deceased. “There is a component of sadness,” Meshbesher said. “We understand that.

“What I’ve asked for is just what has been given by law.”

Meshbesher pointed out Smith has no prior criminal record and has lived in Little Falls most of his life and poses no threat to the community at large. “This is not a case where my client randomly went into  a school and shot people,” Meshbesher said. “This was a home. His home.”

In a memorandum in support of Smith’s motion to reduce bail, Meshbesher cited release conditions under the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure — including the nature and circumstances of the offense charged, the weight of evidence and financial resources. The memo says Smith acknowledges the charges against him are very serious and the weight of evidence against him is strong, however, it argues the circumstances show that, at least initially, Smith acted in self-defense. “The rules of procedure need to look at who he is,” Meshbesher said. “There is a presumption of innocence.”

Meshbesher said Smith expressed a desire to stay in Little Falls and defend his case.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Meshbesher said. “All I’m asking for is reasonable bail and what it is set at right now is not reasonable.”

County Prosecutor Todd Kosovich disagreed with Meshbesher’s argument saying the state felt the bail set was in line with a bail amount set in any case involving a crime of this nature. While, the safety of the victims “sadly is not a legal problem,” the prosecution does believe Smith could pose a viable threat to other individuals and the safety of the community.

“Since the bail has been set we’ve had a lot more discovery,” Kosovich told the court.

Kosovich then recounted parts of the audio recording recovered from Smith’s home after search warrants were issued following the shooting. According to Kosovich, the audio surveillance recovered recorded sounds of Smith shooting Nicholas Brady as he descended the steps of Smith’s basement. Smith is then heard on the recording saying, “You’re dead,” before taking additional shots at Brady, and according to the criminal complaint, shooting Brady in the face at point blank range. Kosovich said the audio recording documents Smith had a tarp ready to roll Brady’s body into within 18 seconds of the final shots taken at Brady.

“I listened to that recording a number of times,” Kosovich told the court.

Kosovich said the recording also shows Smith had his gun reloaded within 10 minutes from the final shots taken at Nick Brady.

Kosovich said the audio surveillance then recorded Haile Kifer calling out for Nicholas Brady before descending the stairs. Smith’s first shot is heard on the recording and then the sound of his gun jamming, which align with the details of the criminal complaint. Kosovich said Smith then said to Kifer, “Oh, sorry about that.”

The surveillance then records Kifer moaning in pain and saying, “Oh my God. Oh my God,” then several more shots are taken.

Kosovich told the court Smith then said to Kifer, “You’re dying, you’re dying,” as she fell to his basement floor.

Kosovich then told the court Smith took another shot and is heard to say, presumably to Kifer, “Bitch,” as he drug her body to the basement office space.

Kosovich said one minute and 15 seconds passed before Smith took his final shots, shooting Kifer in the head three times. “There’s no way that’s self-defense, your honor,” Kosovich told Judge Anderson.

Kosovich also told the court Smith had removed light bulbs from basement light fixtures.

Kosovich said the most damning information is the way Smith treated Kifer, saying he told investigators she gave out a death twitch saying, “it works the same in a beaver or a deer.”

Kosovich told the court Smith offered no help, but instead left the bodies of the two teens in his basement overnight before Morrison County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at his house to investigate a suspicious activity.

“Your honor, this was not self-defense,” Kosovich said. “The state believes the evidence will show this was an ambush and a murder.”

Kosovich concluded his comments by telling the court the state believes the bail amount set should be doubled.

Attorney Steven Meshbesher responded to Kosovich’s comments saying: “That was very good drama, but this is not the Guthrie Theatre.” Meshbesher argued Smith is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

“This is supposed to be a courtroom,” Meshbesher said.

Meshbesher laid out for the judge the allegations against Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer that led to the shooting, saying the pair entered Smith’s home illegally, were accused of breaking into other homes and stealing narcotics.

“The police even say these are facts,” Meshbesher told the court. “The fact is he is presumed innocent.”

Meshbesher said Smith’s home north of Little Falls was a family home he has lived in most of his life minus the four years he served in the military and 16 additional years he spent working for the state department.

Meshbesher indicated he felt Kosovich’s comments about the recordings were overly dramatic and inappropriate. “He’s not a witness,” Meshbesher told Judge Anderson. “All I am asking the court to do now is set bail at an appropriate amount.”

Kosovich responded saying: “When I’m passionate about something I get dramatic — I’m passionate about this case.”

Smith remained quiet throughout the hearing speaking only to his lawyer and only speaking audibly when his attorney explained to him what it would mean should he waive his rights to a speedy trial.

Judge Anderson told the counsel he was not concerned about Smith returning to court, but the conditions and nature of the circumstances surrounding his charges were relevant for the court to consider safety, including the safety of the defendant.

Anderson moved to reduce the conditional bail amount to $500,000 bond or $50,000 cash saying Smith’s assets in property could provide some financial ability to make bail. Anderson indicated no change in the amount required in the unconditional bond.

Smith’s passport was surrendered to court administration by his brother, Bruce Smith, and the county attorney’s office made arrangements for him to sign a waiver of extraditions before returning to the Morrison County Jail.

By late Monday afternoon, Smith had not yet posted bail.

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

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