The debate over gun control in the United States continues to be one of the most divisive issues facing our country. In the wake of numerous mass-shooting tragedies, certain states have enacted tighter gun-control laws while others have gone in the opposite direction. And it seems that with each new fatal shooting justified in the name of personal protection, the debate gets louder.
Most of the cases that have made national news are incidents in which a gun owner (and concealed carrier) has shot and killed a stranger in the midst of an argument or in disproportionate response to a perceived threat against their personal safety. In some cases, juries vote to completely exonerate these shooters and in others, they vote to convict them of murder.
In a Minnesota case that has received national attention, a jury voted earlier today to convict a 65-year-old man of murder for shooting and killing two teenagers who had broken into his home. They were a 17-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl who were cousins. After the verdict, the man was immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The fatal shooting occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. The defendant lives in a small town of just over 8,000 people, and had recently been a victim of other break-ins, during which some personal property had been stolen.
The defendant has claimed all along that he feared for his safety and was only trying to protect himself and his home. But prosecutors revealed details of the incident that strongly suggest premeditated murder.
In anticipation of a break-in, the man apparently stationed himself at the bottom of his basement steps. He had food, water, a book to read and a loaded gun. He also had a tarp nearby, which he later used to wrap up the body of one of his victims.
Prosecutors also noted that the victims had been shot and immobilized but were still alive and probably could have been saved. The defendant made an audio recording of the incident in which he calls the two teenagers “vermin.” He then allegedly shot both again in order to kill them.
It is unclear if the family plans to pursue a separate civil lawsuit for wrongful death. For now, however, they and others are reportedly relieved that a double murder could not successfully be justified as an act of self defense.
Source: Star Tribune, “Byron Smith gets life sentence for murdering Little Falls teens,” Pam Louwagie, April 29, 2014