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Smith doesn’t testify in murder trial; closing arguments today

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LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — As the defense rested Monday, defense attorney Steven Meshbesher told reporters it was his decision to not have Byron Smith testify.

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Smith is on trial in Morrison County for two first-degree murder indictments in the Thanksgiving Day 2012 shooting deaths of Nick Brady and Haile Kifer after the teenagers entered Smith’s rural Little Falls home without permission.

Closing arguments are set for today.

Meshbesher said Smith was willing to take the stand.

“He was wanting to do anything,” Meshbesher said. “He was taking my advice.”

Meshbesher said he felt, after reviewing the case over the weekend, that there was just no need for Smith the take the stand.

In the first week of the trial, jurors heard audio of the shooting itself recorded on a digital device retrieved from Smith’s basement. They also heard the recording of a statement given by Smith to law enforcement about the shooting after his arrest in November 2012.

In his instructions to jurors, Judge Douglas Anderson explained that Smith is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and indicted with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Brady and Kifer.

The jury will return a verdict of guilty or not guilty on all four counts.

Anderson explained that returning a guilty verdict in the first-degree indictments would require the jury to conclude Smith’s actions were premeditated — meaning Smith “considered, planned, prepared for or determined to commit murder before committing.”

Anderson told the jurors it is not necessary for premeditation to exist for any specific amount of time, just that decision to murder was not rash.

A guilty verdict of second-degree murder still requires the jury to conclude that intentionally causing death, but without premeditation.

Jurors were also given instruction on how to interpret Minnesota law regarding self-defense and defense of dwelling. According to Minnesota law, it is not a crime for a person to take the life of another if the circumstances surrounding expose the person to death or great bodily harm, there is reasonable threat and decision to defend is something a reasonable person to have made in light of the present danger.

According to Minnesota law a crime is not committed when a death occurs when action is taken by a person to prevent the commission of a felony in his own home.

It is alleged that Brady and Kifer were intending to commit a burglary in Smith’s home.

In both self-defense and defense of dwelling laws, a person has no obligation to retreat in his or her own home.

Monday’s proceedings included the defense’s fourth request for a mistrial. The motion was again denied.

Meshbesher asked Anderson to allow a mistrial after the prosecution’s questioning of Little Falls resident John Dillion Lange.

Lange, 16, is Smith’s neighbor, and told the court he and his band were allowed to practice music in Smith’s detached garage.

Lange also testified that Smith has lived at his parents’ rural Little Falls home since the shootings occurred.

Meshbesher asked Lange about what his opinion of Smith’s reputation in the community — if he has a reputation for being honest. After several objections from the prosecution, Lange answered that he thought Smith was an honest person.

State prosecutor Pete Orput asked Lange, “It’s real known around here that you don’t mess with that guy — isn’t that true?”

Objections from the defense prevented Lange from answering and led to Meshbesher stating the questioning was “absolutely improper.”

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