In a previous post on this very blog, our classmate Lorna attributed race as a reason Byron Smith was charged with two counts of first degree murder. He shot, wounded and then killed Haile Kifer (18 years old) and Nicholas Brady (17 years old) after they broke into his home. The teenagers were white. She said, “Can anybody honestly say that Mr. Smith would be on trial today if these teens had been two thugs from the ‘hood’ up from Minneapolis for a Thanksgiving Day crime spree? I don’t think so.”
Fellow classmate Clinton commented on the post and disagreed with Lorna’s statements on the case:
“I am going to have to call foul on your first story Lorna. Mr. Smith isn’t on trial because he shot intruders who happened to come from middle class or privileged families. He is on trial because of the suspicious circumstances around the altercation. I am confident that if the intruders had been minorities with wrap sheets a mile long Mr. Smith would still be on trial.”
I agree with Clinton; there are some creepy details of this story that should be pointed out.
Lorna writes, “Mr. Smith, an elderly retiree living alone had had his home burglarized in the past and was afraid for his life when he heard his home being broken into.”
There are four true statements in the statement above as Mr. Smith: was elderly (64 at the time), retired, living alone, and this wasn’t the first time his house was broken into. I’m not so sure, however, that Smith was afraid for his life when he heard a window shatter.
Can anyone truly know if Smith was afraid, other than himself? This is a pretty deep question that I don’t think we have time to get into, but I did find commentary on Smith’s proclaimed fear in an article on Huffington Post. Ted Sampsell-Jones, criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said Smith’s taunts to the victims don’t show a man in a panic. He also states, “…he didn’t do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about.”
The prosecution argued that Smith instead was really ticked off about previous burglaries and decided to take matters into his own hands. The Star Tribune reports:
In closing arguments Tuesday morning, Orput said that Smith was setting a trap for a neighbor girl who he believed had been behind the break-ins.
The prosecutor contended Smith saw her drive on his street that morning and set the plan in motion: moving his truck to appear as if he weren’t home, activating an audio recorder in his basement, loading his guns and settling into a basement reading chair with water, snacks and a novel.
Orput said Smith had a tarp ready in his basement to wrap the body of Brady after he shot him.
I admit, I kind of get the waiting-to-ambush if you are really scared. The burglars might not even check out the basement for valuables, so it seems like a somewhat decent place to hide in fear (serious lack of exits, though). It could also be considered a convenient place to be waiting with a loaded gun, in the event that an intruder creeps down the stairs.
WAIT – did I see “activating an audio recorder?”
Yes, there is audio of the incident. I don’t blame you if you don’t listen to it, it certainly was not a fun time for me. This is what I heard on the tape: Someone walking down stairs, two gun shots, the sound of a body tumbling down the stairs, another shot, and then sounds of plastic being moved around for a really long time. That was Smith shooting, wounding and then killing Nicholas Brady. It definitely sounds like a tarp when you hear the plastic sounds, but I’m no audio expert – just my opinion.
The audio doesn’t stop. I also heard Kifer’s shooting. After the first shot, Smith’s gun seems to jam (or it needs a reload) and he apologizes to her for it, almost in a sarcastic, Dexter tone. Then he either unjams the gun or reloads and proceeds to keep firing. After the final gun shot, Smith is heard saying to Kifer, “Bitch.”
That’s not all that Smith says on the audio.
Smith was heard saying a slew of odd things during the 6-hour recording. One of the favorites of news outlets was Smith saying, “They weren’t human. I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
Some other notables:
“Fun, cool, exciting and highly profitable until someone kills you.”
“I felt like I was cleaning up a mess, worse than spilled food, worse than vomit.”
Smith does refer to fear often on the recording:
“I’m safe now,” then whispering later: “I feel a little bit safer. Not totally safe. I’m still shaking a bit …”
“I refuse to live in fear.”
A lot of what this case came down to, according to jurors interviewed after the verdict, was whether or not Smith protected his home in a reasonable, self-defensive way. In an article for the New York Daily News, juror Wes Hatlestad said, “I do think he had some fear, but his reaction to it was very unreasonable.”
I’ve read too many articles on this case and as much as I’d love to help Lorna prove her point, I can’t find a lick of evidence or speculation that race had anything to do with Byron Smith’s charges and ultimate conviction. It’s still a horrible situation with no positive outcomes, and I’m sure people will debate Smith’s motives for years to come. I just don’t think anyone will be talking about the fact that the Brady and Kifer were white.