Minnesota man convicted of premeditated murder

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Byron Smith re-enters court before the jury made their ruling at the Morrison County Courthouse, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Little Falls, Minn. Smith, who shot and killed 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer during a 2012 Thanksgiving Day break-in, was convicted of premeditated murder. The jury took only about three hours to soundly reject his claim of self-defense. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, David Joles) MANDATORY CREDIT; ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; MAGS OUT; TWIN CITIES TV OUT.

Byron Smith re-enters court before the jury made their ruling at the Morrison County Courthouse, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Little Falls, Minn. Smith, who shot and killed 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer during a 2012 Thanksgiving Day break-in, was convicted of premeditated murder. The jury took only about three hours to soundly reject his claim of self-defense. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, David Joles) MANDATORY CREDIT; ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; MAGS OUT; TWIN CITIES TV OUT.

Byron Smith, left, heads into court for his hearing, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Little Falls, Minn. Smith, a Minnesota homeowner shot and killed two teenagers during a 2012 Thanksgiving Day break-in, was convicted of premeditated murder. The jury took only about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense. He was immediately sentenced to life without parole. Smith was immediately sentenced to life without parole. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, David Joles) MANDATORY CREDIT; ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; MAGS OUT; TWIN CITIES TV OUT.

Byron Smith, who has been charged with fatally shooting two teenagers who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, leaves the Morrison County Courthouse after closing arguments in his trial, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Little Falls, Minn. Smith chose not to testify in his own behalf Monday, and his defense rested after calling three character witnesses and a private detective who sought to bolster the homeowner’s claim of self-defense. (AP Photo/The St. Cloud Times, Dave Schwarz) NO SALES

FILE – This Nov. 23, 2012 file photo provided by the Morrison County sheriff’s office shows Byron David Smith, a Minnesota man accused of killing two teenagers who broke into his home in November last year. The Minnesota homeowner who shot and killed two teenagers during a break-in was convicted Tuesday, April 29, 2014, of premeditated murder. (AP Photo/Morrison County Sheriff’s Office, File)

Jay Kifer, the father of Hailey Kifer, gets a hug from his aunt Bonnie Czech, after Byron Smith was found guilty in the murders of Nick Brady, 17, and Kifer, 18, at the Morrison County Courthouse in Little Falls, Minn., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Smith, a Minnesota homeowner shot and killed the teenagers during a 2012 Thanksgiving Day break-in, was convicted of premeditated murder. The jury took only about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense. He was immediately sentenced to life without parole. Smith was immediately sentenced to life without parole. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, David Joles) MANDATORY CREDIT; ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; MAGS OUT; TWIN CITIES TV OUT.

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LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota homeowner who shot and killed two unarmed teenagers during a break-in was quickly convicted of premeditated murder Tuesday, with a jury taking about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense.

Byron Smith, a 65-year-old retiree who once set up security in American embassies for the U.S. State Department, shot Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

Smith’s attorney said he was fearful after previous burglaries. But prosecutors argued Smith waited in his basement and intended to kill the teens, with a setup so elaborate that lead prosecutor Pete Orput compared it to a deer stand. Their key evidence was an audio recording that captured the killings in chilling detail, including Smith’s taunts as the teens died.

The mothers of the teens, who were cousins, cried as the verdicts were read: guilty on two counts each of first-degree and second-degree murder. Smith, who showed no emotion as he heard the verdicts, was immediately sentenced to life without parole. Defense attorney Steve Meshbesher said he would appeal.

Brady’s grandmother, Bonnie Schaeffel, was among family members who addressed the court after the verdicts.

She said Smith seemed like a “sour, angry old recluse who felt he was above the law.” She added she was sorry his house was burglarized, but said Kifer and Brady should have had the chance to grow up and learn from their mistake.

Kifer’s aunt, Laurie Skipper, read a statement from her niece’s parents: “Byron Smith made a conscious choice to shoot and kill our beautiful daughter Haile. … The feelings of helplessness are overwhelming.”

Smith’s brother, Bruce, walked past reporters afterward without comment.

The teens’ killings stirred debate around the state and in Little Falls — a Mississippi River city of 8,000 about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis — about how far a homeowner can go in responding to a threat. Minnesota law allows deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one’s home or dwelling, but one’s actions must be considered reasonable under the circumstances.

Prosecutors said Smith’s plan was set in motion on the morning of the killings, after Smith saw a neighbor whom he believed responsible for prior burglaries. Prosecutors say Smith moved his truck to make it look like no one was home, and then settled into a basement chair with a book, energy bars, a bottle of water and two guns.

Smith also set up a hand-held recorder on a bookshelf, which captured audio of the shootings, and had installed a surveillance system that recorded images of Brady trying to enter the house.

The audio, which was played several times in court, captured the sound of glass shattering, Brady descending the basement stairs and Smith shooting Brady three times. Smith can be heard saying, “You’re dead.” Prosecutors said Smith put Brady’s body on a tarp and dragged

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