Byron Smith faces murder charges

Byron Smith faces two charges of second-degree murder in connection with the killings of teenagers Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady, both of whom were shot to death on Thanksgiving after they apparently broke into Smith's home.

Smith seemed to convict himself in a statement he gave to police after the teens' dead bodies were discovered in his home the next day. He said that after shooting Brady, he looked at him on the floor and thought to himself, "I want him dead," then fatally shot him in the face. Later, after Kifer was shot repeatedly in the chest and lay gasping for air, Smith told police he killed her with a "good, clean finishing shot" under the chin. Seems like a cut-and-dried case of murder, right? Not so fast.

A piece in Minnesota Lawyer looks at what a defense attorney will have to demonstrate in order to exonerate Smith. In short, in Minnesota, killing an intruder is lawful if it happens in the course of trying to prevent that intruder from committing a felony in your home or if you reasonably feel you're at risk of great bodily harm. And since Kifer and Brady had broken into Smith's house, there's a case to be made that the first shots Smith fired prevented a burglary from occurring and therefore were legally permissible. But what about the subsequent kill shots?

Smith did himself no favors with the chilling statement he gave to police in the wake of the shootings. But Minneapolis defense attorney Brock Hunter told Minnesota Lawyer that Smith might be able to build a defense around the bizarre, possibly drug-influenced behavior of the teens.

According to Smith's version of events, when his gun jammed, Kifer laughed at him. She'd already been shot at least once. That's certainly a strange way to behave as your life is slipping away. Furthermore, the teens have been linked to another Little Falls burglary that occurred just days before Thanksgiving. They were apparently seeking prescription drugs, and Brady's sister speculated that pills were probably what Brady and Kifer were after in breaking into Smith's home.

Furthermore, Smith claims his home has been burglarized eight times in recent years.

Was Smith sufficiently "on edge" and "in fear" to reasonably believe the teens put him at risk for great bodily harm even after they'd been shot and incapacitated? It seems like a stretch, but it'll be up to a jury to decide.

As Minnesota Lawyer notes, Smith's case would've been even more controversial had Governor Dayton not vetoed the MNGOP-pushed Defense of Dwelling and Person act last spring. Rather than requiring Smith to demonstrate it was reasonable to believe he was at risk for great harm, that law would've placed the burden on prosecutors to prove Smith wasn't acting in self-defense when he used deadly force.

Dayton: Just Say No

As we told you a couple of weeks ago, a bill easing Minnesota's marijuana laws will likely come before the legislature this session. And thanks to new DFL majorities, it stands a good chance of being approved.

But will Gov. Mark Dayton sign it into law? In an interview with the AP, our governor indicates he probably won't.

A preview of the interview published this week says Dayton won't sign a bill relaxing marijuana laws unless it has the backing of law enforcement, which seems like a long shot.

"I don't think we need another drug operating in our society," Dayton said.

His remarks shouldn't come as a surprise. The Marijuana Policy Project characterizes Dayton's marijuana stance as "no more favorable" toward legalization than that of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who vetoed a medical marijuana bill back in 2009.

Strib writers want raises

Star Tribune journalists haven't received raises in more than five years, and they're beginning to speak out about it.

Strib journos have taken to wearing green on Fridays and are displaying desk placards reading, "Show Us the Green in 2013."

More information about why Stribbers have been vocal with their displeasure is provided by veteran reporter Steve Brandt in a letter he posted on the StribGuild website:

"Since wages were last raised in the Star Tribune newsroom on Aug. 1, 2007, the cost of living has risen by 11.8 percent (Social Security COLA index)," Brandt wrote. "That means that we have been forced to see our standard of living reduced by that amount because we have now gone 1,952 days without a pay increase."

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