By Todd Melby
LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota (Reuters) - A Minnesota man was convicted by a jury on Tuesday of first-degree premeditated murder in the shooting deaths of two unarmed teenagers who broke into his house.
Byron Smith, 65, was then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing Haile Kifer, 18, and her cousin Nick Brady, 17, at his rural Little Falls, Minnesota, home on Thanksgiving Day in November 2012.
Smith never denied shooting the teens, but told police he had feared for his life. During closing arguments on Tuesday, Smith trembled, held his head in his hands, and wiped tears from his eyes when prosecutors played excerpts from an audio recording he had made of the shootings.
Smith's attorney Steve Meshbesher told jurors that Smith, who lived alone, "was confused (and) scared" that day. He said Smith's home had recently been burglarized and guns had been stolen.
Prosecutor Pete Orput had urged jurors to convict Smith of first-degree murder, telling them Smith had planned the shootings by moving his vehicle so intruders would think he was not home, activating an audio recorder and loading his weapons.
Jurors, who deliberated for about three hours, also convicted Smith of second-degree murder.
The case helped fuel a national debate about how far people could go to protect themselves from bodily harm and divided Little Falls, a town of about 8,300 located 100 miles north of Minneapolis.
(Reporting by Todd Melby; Editing by David Bailey and Leslie Adler)