Byron Smith and Bernhard Goetz

Little Falls trial has echoes of unlikely vigilante Bernhard Goetz

He'd had enough. It was time to draw that line in the sand. He had been victimized before. So, when it happened again, he was armed and ready and took action. Yet, the question remains whether he went too far and crossed the line from self-defense to deliberate criminal intent. I am not talking here about Byron Smith, the 65-year-old Little Falls, Minn., homeowner on trial in the fatal shootings of two teenagers who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day two years ago. I'm talking about Bernhard Goetz, the white, nerdy-looking, bespectacled calibration-machine expert who shot and wounded four black teenagers who he said were about to rob him on a New York City subway train Dec. 22, 1984.
Neighbors, friends, say Smith was frightened and scared after burglaries

Brian-Paul Crowder and Bill and Georgia Anderson testified Friday afternoon, that Byron Smith was concerned, frightened and scared after an Oct. 27, 2012 burglary at his home, which the Andersons said had not been the first. Smith, 65, is being tried on two counts of first-degree murder for shooting Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after the two broke into his Little Falls home.
Comment: More. The 2nd week of the trial continues tomorrow. Clearly Smith went too far, but in my own view, 1st degree murder will not be the verdict


  1. I was thinking a lower penalty until I considered that he, except for the audio/video, he was ignoring everything he'd learned in embassy security. (no call to police, hiding his car/no means of retreat, small bore weapons, firing needlessly from point blank range) The kids were no angels, but a visit to the police and a call to them when he heard breaking glass would have been sufficient--at least the girl's life could have been saved I think.

  2. Update: Murder verdict in Little Falls killings hasn't ended debate:

    At the local VFW, Byron Smith supporters filed into the rented room for a monthly meeting to strategize how they can help bring justice to a man they believe was wronged.

    In the local paper, a steady stream of letters to the editor debate whether Smith should have been convicted of first-degree premeditated murder for killing two teenagers who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

    On the Internet, the group’s polished website criticizes law enforcement, displays purported evidence and recounts how Smith feared for his life after a series of prior break-ins at his home along the Mississippi River.

    Nearly a year after Smith’s case drew national attention amid intense debate over what rights homeowners have to defend their property — ending with a jury swiftly convicting him of murder — Smith’s backers are not giving up on their efforts to drum up support for the 66-year-old. Meanwhile Smith sits in prison serving a life sentence, waiting for his lawyers to file appeal arguments to the state Supreme Court ­— arguments that are expected this week.

    The jury took only three hours to deliberate last April after prosecutors presented evidence portraying Smith as a vigilante who sat waiting for burglars in his home, then coldly executed 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady by continuing to shoot them after they no longer posed a threat. A surveillance-style audio recording that Smith had set up chilled the courtroom with sounds of gunshots booming, of the two teenagers groaning and screaming and then of Smith muttering how he saw them as “vermin” as they lay wrapped in tarps on his floor.

    At a Thursday night meeting at the VFW, Smith’s supporters talked not only of trying to help free him from prison, but also of guarding their rights to defend themselves and their homes.

    “There’s so many of us that say that if this had happened to us, we’d do the same thing,” said 76-year-old Beverly Nouis, who stood inside the meeting room with about 45 other supporters, a cross hanging from her neck. Nouis said she’s never met Smith, but felt compelled to put an ad in the local newspaper to form the group, now called Citizens for Justice for Byron Smith Coalition. “I feel he’s an innocent person,” she said.

    Relatives of Brady and others say the support is misinformed and disruptive.

    Seeing frequent letters to the editor in the Morrison County Record and other signs of support for Smith has been “extraordinarily painful,” said Steve Schaeffel, Brady’s grandfather. Schaeffel said he and others in the family know the teens were in the wrong for entering Smith’s house, and they believe in citizens’ rights to protect themselves, but this wasn’t a case of that, he said. “They’re blind to the facts … Smith had so many opportunities to do things differently. But he didn’t. He chose the path that he chose and now he faces the consequences.”

    Retired Little Falls police Officer Thor Lindquist said he hadn’t heard of the Smith support group at his regular coffee gatherings or at church. He said he thinks it’s a fringe gathering. They “can waste their money any way they want,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to get anyplace.”

    One of Smith’s attorneys, Steve Meshbesher, said he declined to speak to the group saying it would be inappropriate while Smith’s case is on appeal. Meshbesher said after the trial that he planned a vigorous appeal because they weren’t allowed to show jurors all the evidence they felt was necessary, including testimony that would have implicated Brady in prior burglaries at Smith’s house.


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