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Court: You Can’t Always Shoot When Defending Your Home

byron smith minnesota

Byron Smith. Image source: NYDailyNews

Two new cases in Montana and Minnesota are testing the limits of the legal doctrine known as “stand your ground,” which gives broad discretion to individuals to defend themselves, even if the other person was not armed.

In both cases, homeowners were arrested after killing intruders. More than 20 states have stand-your-ground laws.

In late April a jury convicted Byron Smith of Minnesota for murdering two teens — Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17 — who broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Smith said his house had been broken into several times and he was frightened to live there, but prosecutors claimed that he waited in his basement for the teens, as if they were “deer.” The teens were shot a total of nine times, and prosecutors said Smith kept firing long after it was necessary.

The jury found Smith guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder, according to CBS News. He was sentenced to life without parole.

“He seems a sour, angry old recluse who felt he was above the law,” Schaeffel said. “He chose to be cop, judge, jury and executioner.”

The prosecutions’ case was aided by a recording of the scene in which Smith can be heard telling one of them, “you’re dead” and another one, “you’re dying.” He also calls them “vermin” on tape. He waited until the next day to call police.

Smith’s attorney said the homeowner feared for his life.

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“If somebody breaks into your house in the middle of the night, the presumption is you have the right to assume that they are armed and intend to do you harm,” criminologist and gun policy expert Edward Leddy, a professor emeritus at St. Leo University in Florida, told the Christian Science Monitor. “How reasonable is that presumption? The problem is there’s no clear-cut answer to that. It depends on the situation and the reasonableness of the person’s fear.”

In Montana, a homeowner shot and killed a 17-year-old German exchange student, Diren Dede, who had entered his garage. The 29-year-old homeowner, Markus Karma, said his neighborhood had been burglarized twice and he had been watching closely for suspicious activity. It is not known why Dede was in the man’s garage. Karma fired his shotgun four times.

“We know with no question the individual entered the garage. Karma didn’t know who he was, his intent or whether he was armed,” Karma’s attorney, Paul Ryan, told the Associated Press.

He was charged with murder and is out on bond.

Dede had tripped sensors, and prosecutors say Karma did not give Dede any warning.

“The state doesn’t believe that Kaarma identified Dede as a threat to commit a forcible felony in the garage,” prosecutor Andrew Paul told the Missoulian newspaper. “He actually sought Dede out by essentially trapping him in the garage.”

Do you believe there are limits to defending your home? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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