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Minnesota man who killed teens in break-in charged with murder

Byron David Smith was arrested after he told police he shot and killed two teenagers who he said were breaking into his home on Thanksgiving Day.
Byron David Smith was arrested after he told police he shot and killed two teenagers who he said were breaking into his home on Thanksgiving Day.AP file

A 64-year-old Minnesota man was charged Monday with murder for killing two teenagers who he said broke into his Little Falls home, shooting them in the head, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Byron David Smith was arrested after he told police he shot and killed two teenagers who he said were breaking into his home on Thanksgiving Day.AP file

"If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again," Byron David Smith of Little Falls told investigators, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.

Smith was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Haile Kifer, 18, and her cousin, Nicholas Brady, 17, both of Little Falls. The teens were shot on Thanksgiving Day, but their deaths weren't reported until Friday.

Brady has also used the name Schaeffel, which is his mother’s maiden name, at times for family reasons, according to the sheriff's office.

In the criminal complaint, Smith said he was in the basement of his remote home about 10 miles southwest of Little Falls when he heard a window breaking upstairs, followed by footsteps that eventually approached the basement stairwell. Fearful after several break-ins, according to the complaint, Smith said he fired when Brady came into view from the waist down.

After the teen fell down the stairs, Smith said he shot him in the face as he lay on the floor.

"I want him dead," the complaint quoted Smith telling an investigator.

Smith said he dragged Brady's body into his basement workshop, then sat back down on his chair, and after a few minutes Kifer began coming down the stairs. He said he shot her as soon as her hips appeared, and she fell down the steps.

Smith said he tried to shoot her again with his Mini 14 rifle, but that the gun jammed and Kifer laughed at him.

"Smith stated that it was not a very long laugh because she was already hurting," according to the complaint.

Smith said he then shot Kifer in the chest several times with a .22-caliber revolver, dragged her next to Brady, and with her still gasping for air, fired a shot under her chin "up into the cranium."

"Smith described it as 'a good clean finishing shot,'" according to the compliant, but also that he acknowledged he had fired "more shots than (he) needed to."

The following day he asked a neighbor to recommend a good lawyer, according to the complaint. He later asked his neighbor to call the police.

A prosecutor called Smith's reaction "appalling."

"Mr. Smith intentionally killed two teenagers in his home in a matter that goes well beyond self-defense," Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf said after Smith appeared at Morrison County District Court on Monday morning. Bail was set at $2 million.

Minnesota law allows a homeowner to use deadly force on an intruder if a reasonable person would fear they're in danger of harm. Smith told investigators he was afraid the intruders might have a weapon.

Smith's actions "sound like an execution" rather than legitimate self-defense, said David Pecchia, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. Pecchia said his statements to investigators suggest he had eliminated any threat to his safety by wounding the cousins.

Smith's brother, Bruce Smith, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that the incident was the eighth burglary at Byron Smith's home in recent years.

The only report the Morrison County sheriff's office has for a break-in at the home was for one on Oct. 27. It shows Byron Smith reported losing cash and gold coins worth $9,200, plus two guns worth $200 each, photo equipment worth more than $3,000 and a ring worth $300.

Little Falls is about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Brady's sister, Crystal Schaeffel, told the Star Tribune that Kifer had broken into her home before. Little Falls police records show Crystal Schaeffel reported a theft Aug. 28, but the department said the report was not public because that investigation was continuing and because it named juveniles.

Tessa Ruth, an aunt of Brady, attended Smith's hearing. She told the Star Tribune she wished the man had fired a warning shot or alerted the police instead of shooting the teens.

"It wasn't right for them to be there and, yes, he had a right to defend himself. But to execute them like that..."

A Facebook page was created to commemorate the teens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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