Trial starts April 21 in shooting deaths of Morrison County teens
By Sarah Nelson Katzenburger/Brainerd Dispatch
LITTLE FALLS — Byron Smith appeared in court Tuesday in Morrison County for what will likely be his final appearance before his jury trial is set to begin in April.
Smith faces first-degree murder indictments in the November 2012 shooting deaths of Little Falls teenagers Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer.
Smith admitted to shooting the teens after they allegedly entered his home without permission. According to the criminal complaint, Smith shot the teenagers several times after they walked down his basement stairs.
Several motions were presented to the court to be reviewed prior to trial. Washington County District Attorney Peter Orput, who is prosecuting the case, said the state’s motions were “clearly stated” and presented to the court prior to Tuesday’s pre-trial hearing.
Judge Douglas P. Anderson said he would give defense attorney Steve Meshbesher the opportunity to respond to the state’s motions.
The motions presented by the defense were not submitted prior to Tuesday’s hearing and will be reviewed by the court prior to jury selection.
Meshbesher said the most important of the defense’s requests were motions to dismiss several pieces of discovery presented by the state.
Meshbesher said requests were made, and later court-ordered for discovery, for Brady’s and Kifer’s final autopsy reports; photos taken of the vehicle allegedly driven by Nicholas Kifer; photos taken of a shotgun that was stolen from Smith’s home and later retrieved by law enforcement; statements made to law enforcement by witnesses; and audio recording and transcript of the call made by Smith’s neighbor, William Anderson, that led law enforcement to investigate the events that took place at Smith’s home.
“We don’t have those and we asked for them,” Meshbesher told the court.
Meshbesher also requested the release of photos taken at Smith’s home from the investigation of the Oct. 27, 2012, burglary report. Meshbesher said photos were taken by the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department of finger prints and shoe prints that may link the teens to the October burglary.
Meshbesher stated that requests were also made for copies of finger prints, thumb prints and palm prints taken from Brady and Kifer by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office as well as the release of one of Brady’s shoes to be compared to the photos taken by law enforcement following the October burglary. “We haven’t received those,” he said.
Meshbesher said the defense planned to send the evidence to a private investigator in Florida for analysis. Meshbesher argued that since the shoe was not part of the state’s exhibit list, releasing them shouldn’t be a problem.
Meshbesher suggested those items may be exculpatory evidence and may support Smith’s right to defend himself in his home.
“We just haven’t had the opportunity to do the analysis,” Meshbesher told the court.
Washington County First Assistant Attorney Brent Wartner called Meshbesher’s claims of evidence not being made available “absurd.” He said the state has made the opportunity available for the defense to examine the shoe or any other piece of evidence. “He has yet to take us up on that offer,” Wartner said.
Wartner suggested the court deny Meshbesher’s motion entirely.
Wartner said he believed that state was in possession of approximately 776 pieces of evidence. “If there is something that they need we’d be happy to make that available,” Wartner said.
Orput asked the court to deny the defense’s request for testimony from character witnesses, including a psychologist who Meshbesher said would discuss components of fear and human reaction in fearful situations.
Orput said the state “felt strongly” about their opposition to the testimony from the requested witnesses.
Anderson said the motions would be reviewed and decisions would be made before the start of jury trial.
Anderson briefly discussed the procedure that would be used to select potential jurors. A pool of 140 jurors are scheduled to assemble April 14 where 20 jurors will be selected and questioned and additional jurors will be questioned in groups of 15 until the trial may proceed with the necessary juror panel.
Anderson said the court would release a summary of questions that would be presented to jurors before jury selection.
The state and defense both requested a week to present their cases, requiring up to three weeks of sequestration from potential jurors.
Anderson added that the trial would be held in the larger of Morrison County’s courtroom’s to allow for addition room in the gallery.
Family and friends of both Smith and the teenagers have been present at all of Smith’s hearings leading up to the trial.
Anderson anticipated the jury trial in Smith’s case would begin Monday, April 21 in Morrison County.