Follow Up on Minnesota Shooting: Murder is Not Self-Defense (As I Said)

Back in December 2012, shortly after taking Massad Ayoob’s MAG-40 class, “Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement,” the case of Byron David Smith of Little Falls, Minnesota was brought to my attention.

Family photo of Byron David Smith (Renee Jones Schneider / Minneapolis Star Tribune-ZUMA Press)
Family photo of Byron David Smith (Renee Jones Schneider / Minneapolis Star Tribune-ZUMA Press)

Smith is the man who on Thanksgiving Day 2012 shot and killed two individuals — Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady — who broke into Smith’s house. He shot them both, one at a time, as they came down the stairs into his basement. He had set up in a position in the basement — lying in wait with a book, water, and energy bars — where he could shoot them as soon as he saw their hips on the stairs. It turns out he also created an audio recording of the events, in which he can be heard taunting Kifer and Brady, calling them “vermin.”  Smith then waited a full day before asking a neighbor to call police.

At the time, based on my understanding of the law and the limited facts of the case available at the time, I concluded “both the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and responsible gun owners can agree that shooting to death an intruder you have already rendered harmless is a criminal act of murder. From the statements attributed to him in the criminal complaint, it seems that Byron David Smith did in fact commit murder in the name of self-defense.”

On Tuesday, April 29th, a jury took just 3 hours to convict Smith of first-degree murder.  Which reminds me that those who would “rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6” had better know the law and be damn sure that a reasonable person would agree that being carried by 6 is a real possibility under those same circumstances.




  1. “already rendered harmless” ?!?!? What are you talking about? I cannot even imagine circumstances where a living, breathing, intruder – in the middle of my home in the middle of the night – could possibly be considered “harmless”.

    If you found a large snake in your basement would you check carefully to see if it was venomous, i.e., “armed”? Would you shoot it only until it was “rendered harmless”, and then desist? Without some significant herpetology background how could you reasonably conclude it was harmless, until it was head-less? Are you willing to bet your life on what you know about snakes? Did you know some of them “play dead” when threatened? So do some people.

    Ask anyone who served in Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan how often wounded and apparently unconscious combatants exploded when approached by a medic.


    • The audio recording from his home (which I don’t recommend any listen to due to its highly disturbing content), and his subsequent discussion recorded with police makes it clear that he wasn’t neutralizing any threat. He admits to police that he was spiteful over previous burglaries and a childhood history of being bullied, that he shot the girl additional times simply because he thought she had laughed at him and that “touched a sore spot” with him. Even after /he says himself/ it was apparent they didn’t pose any threat, he shot each one in the head to “put them out of their misery” with a “good, clean shot,” not because he thought they might still be capable of bringing him harm.

      He compares killing them to removing muskrats from his backyard. As he shot each one he says to them “You’re dead,” “You’re dying,” and after shooting the girl in the head he spits “Bitch” at her in a manner that is not at all what you would expect out of a homeowner defending their life against possibly armed intruders.

      Both before and after the shootings he mutters to himself for HOURS, rehearsing phone calls to attorneys to make sure his tone is measured and that his story appears to be one of a frail, elderly person who is simply defending themselves. He also spends some time convincing himself that his behavior is justified because he’s resolving “society’s problems,” and blames their parents for “dropping [their] problems on [his] lap. Never at any point while he mutters to himself does he say that he’s afraid for his life or that he thinks they’re armed, only that he considers them to be pests that are his responsibility to take care of.

      He waits until the next day to even report the shootings to anyone, and rather than calling medical or law enforcement directly, he instead phones a neighbor and asks him to get him in touch with a lawyer. Only after the neighbor tells him he can’t locate an available attorney does Smith relent and call law enforcement, himself.

      Nothing about this case involves actually taking action to neutralize a threat- even a perceived one. It was not an act of self-preservation taken in the moment, it was painstakingly planned for well in advance. It’s clear from Smith’s conversations in the recorded audio that he expected to be able to use castle doctrine in order to get away with ridding himself of what he called “vermin” because he was tired of losing property, not because he considered them to be a physical threat to his person.

      Whatever you may think of others’ rights and abilities to defend themselves from other violent individuals, if you truly asked any veteran, I’m sure they’d be happy to explain that home intruders don’t explode, and that self-defense isn’t justification for exterminating human beings like a household pest. It seems you’re in good company with this particularly deranged individual.


      • This guy was wrong, but shooting a home intruder is a reasonable response in some cases.

        I don’t recommend trying to subdue an armed intruder with unarmed means. Whether you wait to see if they are armed or not, is your own decision to make. Do you value their life over yours? That’s your decision to make.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.