On November 22, 2012, a set of chilling self-defense deaths occurred in Minnesota when Byron David Smith hid in his basement while two teenagers broke into his home. He lured them downstairs and shot them both at point-blank range while recording the entire thing. Headlines like "Man Murders Teens Trespassing In His Home" only covered a small portion of this dense story. The facts of the Smith case aren't cut and dried. The full story shows a man who believes he was being terrorized by the future of a slowly deteriorating country. In taking out the two teens, Smith believed he was doing his town a favor.
While there is no arguing that the teens breaking into someone's home were guilty, Smith's actions led to a series of questions about what self-defense really means. But rather than applaud the 64-year-old retiree for cleaning up the streets of small-town Minnesota, a jury swiftly voted to put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Byron David Smith Recorded Himself Shooting Two Teens
On November 22, 2012 - Thanksgiving Day - Byron David Smith set up a digital audio recorder in his basement while he sat in waiting as cousins Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17, broke into his house. As they made their way downstairs, Smith shot them one by one.
While Smith waited for the teens to arrive, he rehearsed what he would say when he spoke to the police, even going so far as to pretend to ask for a lawyer. The recording becomes a gruesome listen when the teens finally make their way to the basement and encounter Smith.
During and directly after, Smith can be plainly heard giving a monologue about how he did his "civic duty" and saying that bad people come from bad families. After Smith already shot Kifer multiple times when his gun jammed. Smith apologized, and though Kifer cannot be heard laughing on the recording, he claimed she laughed as the gun jammed. "If you’re trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again,” he later told investigators. He then administered what he described as "a good clean finishing shot" before dragging her body to join Brady's and shot her again, acknowledging he fired, "more shots than I needed to.”
- Video: YouTube
He Waited A Full Day To Call The Cops
Smith did not call the police after he ended the teens in the basement of his home; he decided to wait until the next day. He reasoned that the police would be enjoying Thanksgiving with their families, and he didn't want to disturb them.
This kind of logic speaks to the heart of Smith's actions. According to his official police interviews, he thought that he was doing the world a favor by extinguishing these two teens and felt that the police wouldn't want to deal with something so low. After Smith compared the two slain teens to "vermin" on his recording, it was obvious to authorities he thought everyone would agree with how he handled the situation.
Smith Set A Trap To Take Out The Teens
Rather than try to contact the police and have them handle the case, the ex-security engineer for the US State Department decided to take the law into his own hands. He ended up devising a plan that would lead him on a course toward his eventual incarceration. To ensure that Kifer and Brady would break into his home on Thanksgiving, Smith had to make sure that it looked like no one was home.
To do this, he moved his truck out of the area and returned to lie in wait. After making sure the house seemed empty, he snuck down to the basement where he waited for the teens to enter. In a further show of premeditation, he sat with a bottle of water, energy bars, a book to pass the time, and two guns.
Smith Claimed That He Acted In Self-Defense
During the trial, it came out that Smith not only believed he did the right thing when he hid in his basement so he could take out the two teens, but also thought he was doing it in self-defense. His claim sparked a debate about castle doctrine and whether Smith had overstepped the limits of defending himself.
The jury in Smith's case deemed his actions premeditated and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Smith Believed He Was Dishing Out Vigilante Justice
The community agreed that Smith wasn't wrong in wanting to protect his home. As a government retiree, he was well within his rights to stop two intruders, but the way he went about stopping them was worse than the act of taking his possessions.
According to the recording Smith made, he believed he was doing the world a service by carrying out these vicious acts. On the recording, Smith gives a monologue that would fit right in with a voiceover on The Punisher. At one point, Smith says on the tape:
I felt like I was cleaning up a mess. Not like spilled food. Not like vomit. Not even like... not even like [diarrhea]. The worst mess possible. And I was stuck with it... in some tiny little respect... in some tiny little respect. I was doing my civic duty.
While the justice system does not agree with Smith, there are folks in Little Falls, Minnesota, who do, and they set up Facebook pages and crowdfunded bail to help Smith.
Smith Thought The Recording Would Exonerate Him
It may seem odd that Smith recorded the murder of two teens, but in his case, he believed doing so would prove that he was free of all wrongdoing. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, Smith had put together an elaborate security system that he used to record every inch of his property, 24/7.
Smith's neighbor, Bill Anderson, said, "He told me that that way, if something happened to him, at least there would be that recording and we would know what it was." Unfortunately for Smith, the recording managed to sway the jury toward a conviction.