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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

April 30, 2014
Associated Press

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 29

Justice is served in Little Falls murders

Byron Smith could have testified in his own defense on Monday, but he waived his right to appeal directly to jurors and remained silent.

The 65-year-old Little Falls man and his legal team may be regretting that decision today, but many Minnesotans — including the 12 men and women on the jury — had already seen and heard too much from Smith.

In a case that reignited the national debate over self-defense, the former State Department security specialist was convicted Tuesday of premeditated murder in the shooting deaths of 18-year-old Haile Kifer and 17-year-old Nick Brady.

Smith's lawyers, who say they will appeal the verdict, had made their client out to be a third victim, arguing that he was justified in shooting the unarmed Kifer and Brady on Thanksgiving Day 2012 because he was terrified by previous break-ins in which guns were taken from his home.

In fact, jurors heard audiotaped police interviews in which Smith calmly told authorities that he had assumed the intruders were armed, making it a shoot-or-be-shot confrontation.

But the jury heard other recordings, too, and no doubt those weighed heavily during their deliberations. Smith, who had set up security for embassies while with the State Department, recorded audio of the shootings and the aftermath. In a case that tested the limits of the "castle doctrine," he had wired his own castle.

For many who followed the case, the recordings provided all of the evidence necessary to conclude that Smith had planned the execution-style killings in retribution for the break-ins.

Smith waited in his basement while Brady and Kifer entered the home upstairs. The recordings capture the sounds of two gunshots and Brady's groan, followed by Smith firing a third time before saying, "You're dead."

Smith later told investigators that he moved Brady's body to a workshop because he was worried about blood on his carpet — not exactly the kind of practical thinking one would expect from a break-in victim beside himself with fear.

About 10 minutes pass on the recordings before Kifer comes down the stairs while calling out for Brady. More gunshots can be heard — followed by Smith saying "Oh, sorry about that" — before Kifer cries out, "Oh my God!"

Prosecutors said Smith used two guns and fired nine shots. His last recorded words to Kifer are, "You're dying . bitch." He can later be heard saying, presumably to himself, "I don't see them as human. I see them as vermin."

The Morrison County jury had to decide whether Smith acted as a reasonable person would have under the circumstances. Under state law, homeowners can take a life in self-defense if they fear death or great bodily harm or if they are acting to prevent a felony.

Jurors in the Smith case were told to weigh whether he perceived the gravity of the situation in a reasonable way and whether his decision to shoot was reasonable given the danger.

For obvious reasons, there are limits to the "castle doctrine," and Smith crossed the line between a reasonable self-defense and premeditated murder. It took the jury just three hours to return the verdict.

"This was a case about where the limits are," Sheriff Michel Wetzel said at news conference after the verdicts were read.

Brady and Kifer broke the law when they illegally entered Smith's home, and they deserved to be arrested and prosecuted. But there was nothing even remotely reasonable about the nine shots Smith fired on that horrible November day in Little Falls.


St. Cloud Times, April 29

State needs to take action on e-cigs

The No. 1 lesson from America's half-century battle with smoking is consumers should know exactly what they are inhaling and — for the safety of those nearby — exhaling.

Yet users of e-cigarettes, which require inhaling and exhaling vapors, don't know what those vapors contain. And unfortunately, federal authorities don't appear to be in any rush to help them learn.

Witness last week's announcement by the Food and Drug Administration of a proposal that requires ingredient disclosure, federal standards and warning labels for e-cigarettes while also banning the sale of them and unregulated tobacco products to minors.

That might sound promising, but the proposal — already three years in the making — is two years or more away from becoming law.

Minnesota legislators should not wait that long to protect residents — especially minors — from the potential risks and highly addictive nicotine fix e-cigarettes deliver.

Legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton this session should adopt e-cigarette measures already introduced that protect Minnesota's clean indoor air and keep e-cigarettes and similar products out of kids' hands.

These products not only have no consistent standards for ingredients and usage amounts, but there is no conclusive research yet on their long-term effects on users or people affected by the vapors users release.

As much as the e-cigarette industry claims the chemicals and vapors from the devices are not like traditional smoking, the reality is consumers don't know what they contain beyond the nicotine. In fact, some research has shown the vapors do contain toxic chemicals similar to traditional cigarettes; they are just in lower amounts.

Those factors alone should make it an obvious and easy choice to treat e-cigarettes and related products like traditional cigarettes, and basically ban them from indoor use in public settings.

When (or if?) the FDA's proposed rules eventually read differently based on research, state law can be changed. In the meantime, ban the vapors now to protect public health.

Finally, protection of minors is critical. Intentional or not, some in the tobacco industry are marketing these products in the same way (even with the same flavors) they used decades ago to appeal to youth. That's why a ban on selling them to anyone under age 18 is a necessity. After all, haven't Americans been down this unhealthy road already?


The Free Press of Mankato, April 30

Gun restrictions in domestic cases reasonable

A proposal before the Legislature to restrict firearms from domestic abusers is no guarantee to prevent gun violence, but it may very well help reduce the risk of gun violence.

That's the tradeoff that's important with these kinds of laws. A proposal co-authored by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center -- one of the most outspoken gun rights advocates in the Legislature -- calls for restricting some firearms, including rifles, from domestic abusers who have been convicted of abuse or stalking. It also calls for those who have a restraining order imposed on them to give up their guns.

Cornish changed some of the original legislation to make sure gun owners got due process and that guns confiscated would go to a friend or relative instead of law enforcement. Those facing confiscation of their weapons due to a restraining order would get to make their case before a judge before the weapons were taken away.

Cornish is co-authoring the bill with licensed police officer Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park and the bipartisan nature of the bill means it has a good chance of passing. A vote was scheduled for Wednesday in the House.

Minnesota law already prohibits convicted abusers from owning handguns so the new proposal would apply to rifles and any other weapons.

While restricting guns in no guarantee they won't be used for violence, groups aiming to end and prevent domestic violence believe this narrow niche legislation on guns will save lives. About half of domestic violence deaths in Minnesota in the last few years have involved firearms, according to a report in the Star Tribune.

Domestic violence also is on the rise. Law enforcement notes cases have doubled in the last two years, with 38 deaths in Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune report. The Mankato region has not been immune to cases of domestic violence, with at least four gun-related domestic murders in the last four years.

Organizations that support victims of domestic abuse say while this measure seems small, Minnesota would be leading the way on a very critical issue of gun violence.

The authors seem to be taking extra care to make sure gun owners have due process, we should take the same care to make sure domestic violence victims can feel a little more safe.



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