April 29, 2014 -- Closing arguments are expected today in the case of a 65-year-old man accused of murdering two unarmed teens who broke into his Minnesota home Thanksgiving Day in 2012.
Byron Smith did not testify in his own behalf. The defense instead called Smith’s brother and neighbors as character witnesses, hoping to convince jurors that Smith, a retired engineer for the State Department and Vietnam War veteran, feared for his life and acted in self-defense when he shot and killed cousins Nicky Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18.
"He's highly regarded by everyone that has known his family," his brother, Bruce Smith, testified.
The case has fueled debate about how far people can go in defending themselves in their homes. Smith faces two counts each of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder. He has pleaded not guilty, telling police he was fearful after a series of break-ins. He installed recording devices in his house.
Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher has argued that Smith couldn’t tell the teens were unarmed, and that Smith was simply trying to defend himself. But prosecutors allege that Smith planned the killings, waiting for the teens in his basement with a book, two guns, energy bars and a bottle of water.
A medical examiner testified last week that Smith shot Brady three times and Kifer six times. Investigators say Smith described the last bullet he fired at Kifer as “a good clean finishing shot.”
One of the teens was later found to be high on cough syrup.
Pam Louwagie, who has been following the case for the Minnesota Star-Tribune, said the defense focused on Smith’s military service and government work.
“I think they were trying to paint a portrait of him being an outstandingly honest man,” Louwagie said. “Of course, prosecutors say something very different; they are saying that, in that moment at least, he went too far.”
District Judge Douglas Anderson told the jury Monday that Minnesota law allows people to use deadly force in self-defense if they fear death or great bodily harm, or to prevent a felony from being committed in one's dwelling. He said a defendant has no duty to retreat, but that a defendant's actions must have been "reasonable under the circumstances." He also told them to follow the law as he explained it, "even if you believe the law is or should be different."
Jurors have been instructed to pack overnight bags in case deliberations take a while and they need to be sequestered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.