Killing Someone in Your House—OK as Self Defense?

In Minnesota today, a man named Byron Smith is on trial for first degree murder of two young people that he shot and killed in his home.  Will he be found Not Guilty because of Self Defense?

I don’t think so.

Here are the basic facts:  Byron Smith is an elderly man who lives alone in a small town in central Minnesota.  For a period of many months he was the victim of several home burglaries.  He wasn’t during those break-ins, but he became afraid that the burglaries would continue.  As a result, he set up a camera system outside the house and made sure that he had guns in the house.  At about one o’clock in the morning, he heard noises outside his house and was quite certain that he was about to be burglarized again.  He sat in his basement with several loaded guns.  The first person in the house was a juvenile boy.  Smith shot him three times, killing him.  Next, a young girl came downstairs and Smith shot her, but that didn’t kill her immediately.  Smith dragged her body into the basement beside the boy and shot her in the head to kill her.  Several hours later, he called police and confessed to everything.

The self defense statute in Minnesota says that a person can lawfully use force in their home if they “reasonable believe they are exposed to great bodily harm or death or they are preventing the commission of a felony within their home.”  The reasonable force used could be killing the intruder.

The question prosecutors have set before the jury is: did Byron Smith go too far in defending himself to actually have committed murder, which requires the government to prove that he killed both young people intentionally and with premeditation?

I think the jury will disallow the self defense and find him guilty.  Smith has shown, in his defense, that prior to the break-in, he was extremely afraid and nervous from the previous burglaries.  That would justify his shooting at any burglar who broke into his house, even juveniles, to stop the threat of great bodily harm or death to himself or to prevent them committing the felony of burglary.  But he went beyond that.  Once the girl had been shot four times, she ceased to move or pose any threat to him.  He could have called the police at that time.  Instead, he dragged her into the basement and carefully shot her under the chin into her head.

Here are some questions to think about:

Does it make a difference how many times he shot the first intruder, the boy?

Could the jury find him not guilty of the boy’s death, but guilty of the girl’s death?

Does it make any difference that he waited a long time before calling the police?

Does it make any difference that he had a recording system in the house where he is recorded as saying, “I’m glad I got rid of the vermin, just like cleaning up some waste.”  (Referring to the victims as vermin)

Let me know what you think will happen.



About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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