Little Falls is making national news. Not because it is a beautiful little community tucked away in one of the most gorgeous parts of this country, but because of a murder trial.
It probably is not news to you that on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 homeowner Byron Smith sat armed with a gun in his house waiting for burglars he thought would come. He believed they would come because they had come before, broken in and burglarized his home. Well, indeed they did come. When they broke into his house this time, he shot and killed them. If that was the entire story, that would be tragic enough. But as always, the devil is in the details.
Smith has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder for the shooting of the burglars. He is currently on trial.
When I was a resident of Minnesota, I decided I wanted to buy a handgun and get a conceal/carry permit. The requirements were simple. I had to have a background check, and I had to attend a course to learn the laws and rules governing the use and the misuse of a firearm. The training was rather intense. I was taught when it is OK to shoot and when it isn’t. For example, if someone breaks into my house and steals my TV set and runs out the front door, I cannot shoot him. But if he breaks into my house, steals my TV and in any way threatens me or anyone in my house, I have every right to shoot him and to continue shooting until the danger to me and mine passes. If I am walking down the street and I witness someone assaulting someone else, I am allowed by law to stop the assault even if it means I have to shoot the perpetrator. There are many more laws and rules. In fact far too many to cover in this column.
Here then is the question. Did this homeowner have the right to kill his intruders? The law says if he felt his life was threatened, he did have that right. The problem for this homeowner was after he had shot one of the burglars and completely disabled her, he shot again specifically to kill her. The prosecutor alleges once the intruder was incapacitated, she no longer posed a threat. This quickly goes then from self-defense to murder. The prosecutor further alleges in this case since the homeowner “lay in wait” for the break-in, that then became premeditated murder. Personally I think the charge of premeditation is an overcharge. The jury will decide. Based on the information published so far, I do believe Smith is probably guilty of a degree of murder in this case and should be punished for his action.
This brings me to the crime of breaking and entering. With all the guns in the hands of citizens in this country, when one breaks into another’s house, they are basically begging to die. It would be similar to pointing a gun at a police officer. It doesn’t matter whether the gun is real or fake, you are begging to die and you will probably get your wish.
For the record, while I don’t believe breaking and entering deserves the death penalty, if someone breaks into my home, I will not spend a lot of time debating the issue. I will do what is necessary to end the threat.
We are all responsible for our choices. If one chooses to break into another’s house, they may well face a person who has chosen to defend his home, and it probably won’t end well.
(Editor’s note: On Tuesday, April 19, the jury, after a three-hour deliberation, found Smith guilty of first- and second-degree murder and he has been sentenced to life without parole.)