When Self-Defense is Self-Evident


When Wisconsin Republicans took control of the state’s governorship and both branches of the legislature two years ago they passed sweeping legislation pertaining to firearms and self-defense—namely concealed carry and the Castle Doctrine.

But when does a shooting morph from self-defense into little more than a glorified execution?

In my new book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You, I profiled the “Shooting at the OK(auchee) Corral,” an incident, whereby, a homeowner in the well-heeled town of Okauchee, Wisconsin, shot-and-killed a man who had entered his garage. The Waukesha County District Attorney’s office later cleared the shooter, Mike Fitzsimmons, in the death of the intruder, James Babe.

Even though Wisconsin’s so-called “Castle Doctrine” provides a blanket of legal protection for shootings that occur when an intruder enters a dwelling, a Minnesota case illustrates why gun owners need to understand the totality of the doctrine of self-defense—the tenants of which emanate from natural law.

On Thanksgiving, two teenagers forcibly entered the Little Falls, Minnesota home of 64-year-old Byron D. Smith, a retired gopher-state employee.  Around noon, Smith, who was home alone, was “sitting in his basement” when he heard someone walking outside his residence.  He then heard the sound of shattering glass, as if a window had been broken on the main level.  Smith told investigators that he then heard footsteps in the main level hallway. A few moments later, an individual began descending down the stairs into the basement. 

Armed with a .223 rifle, Smith shot the intruder, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady, who then tumbled down the stairs. According the criminal complaint, the badly wounded Brady looked-up at Smith, who then shot the unarmed intruder in the face.  Smith allegedly told investigators that he fired the round at Brady’s head because, “I want him dead.”

For whatever reason, instead of immediately calling the police, Smith then placed Brady’s body on a tarp. 

A few minutes later, Smith heard an additional set of footsteps on the main level.  Soon, another person began descending down the steps into the basement.  Smith told investigators that he waited until he could see the female’s “hips,” and then opened fire. Eighteen-year-old Haile Kifer then fell down the steps. Smith told investigators that he attempted to fire at Kifer again but his rifle jammed—at which time Kifer allegedly laughed at Smith.

According to the criminal complaint, Smith told investigators, ‘If you’re trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again.’

Smith then reached for a .22 revolver and shot Kifer in her chest several times.  Still alive, Smith placed the handgun under Kifer’s jaw and discharged a round “under the chin up into the cranium” in order to get “a good clean finishing shot” to put her out of her misery.

Castle Doctrine aside, citizens and police officers may employ the use of deadly force in self-defense if they fear for their life or the life of another. The purpose of using deadly force is to stop the actions of the perpetrator.

A 1969 Minnesota statute—609.065—permits “the intentional taking of the life of another” if “resisting or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.”  Under this statute, Smith’s actions would have likely met that state’s standard of self-defense if he had simply stopped after shooting Brady and Kifer just once.  Instead, Smith is now charged with two counts of second-degree murder.

And, make no mistake about it, the State of Minnesota appears intent on making an example out of Smith, as the powers-that-be have assigned  the case to Peter Orput—a seasoned prosecutor and proud member of the NRA.

“Somebody has got to stand up for these two dead kids,” Orput told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I have some strong feelings about the evidence I’ve reviewed.”

The alleged use of excessive deadly force by Bryon Smith should serve as a reminder to every gun owner that the doctrine of self-defense is not a license to kill. Sometimes, as I’ve written before, the best form of crime control is calling the police.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You, is available at Amazon.com.


If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, please visit:


© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2012

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