A few years ago, I posted an article about a homeowner killing two burglars. I brought up some points, both good and bad, regarding the actions Mr. Smith took in self-defense. There were some heated comments and I remember receiving a bunch of nasty emails because some people didn’t appreciate the fact that I gave a nuanced opinion instead of picking a side in the pro-gun/anti-gun issue. We’re two years later now and Mr. Smith has been put on trial and has received his sentence:
Byron Smith has been found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. His sentence is life without parole.
Take some time to watch this video to listen to some of his testimony and audio evidence from the trial. You can also listen to more of the audio evidence here, starting around 4min. WARNING: NSFW, nor for children:
I’ll refer to both of these in a bit. First, I’d like to make a few points:
- It’s not about morality. I tried to explain this in my original article but noticed a lot of people didn’t get my point; I’m not arguing a moral point. I believe you definitely have a right to defend yourself in your own home. My article was about the specifics, about how Mr. Smith did that; the things he did both right and wrong. The same applies for this article.
- It’s about the law and its consequences. For decades now, I’ve been teaching self-defense and I’ve met tons of people who have a very skewed perspective on it. They think the self-defense laws give them a blanket permission to use violence in whatever way they want. My point in this article (and in most others here on my blog) is that this is bullshit. That’s not how society works, not for self-defense and neither for most other laws. It isn’t what you think that matters, it’s how the legal system sees it. If you willingly ignore this aspect, then you’re not all that bright…
That said, let’s take a look at the trial.
There are a couple factors that I believe convinced the jury to give a guilty verdict:
- Audio recording: Smith apparently set up a recording device that captured audio of the incident. I have no idea how or why he did that. The only thing you can conclude is that it offered incriminating evidence for the trial. It wasn’t just how he talked to the two burglars (“You’re dead.”) but perhaps more importantly, how he kept on commenting long after they were dead (“I think of them as vermin.”) All of this was incredibly useful evidence for the prosecution.
- The police statements. Some of the statements he gave were damning in and of themselves as they speak to the mindset or intent Smith had during the incident. When you give testimony that you did a “good, clean finishing shot”, it makes it virtually impossible to claim you were acting in self-defense.
- Lack of remorse. Apparently, he showed little, if any, emotion during the trial. In general, it’s hard for juries to feel empathy for you if you remain stoic and uninterested while they hear gruesome details of what you did.
This trial is a perfect example of what I see is wrong with so many people’s mindsets when it comes to self-defense. So I can only repeat some of the things I said in the first article:
- Know the law. You need to know exactly what legal self-defense means in the place that you live. Not your opinion on it, but the actual laws and preferably also state and case law. Talk to police officers, lawyers, etc. to get that information. What you think of the law doesn’t matter, only what the law says and how the legal system interprets it. Mr. Smith seems to think his interpretation of the law was correct. This sentence shows you just how wrong he was. Don’t let that happen to you; make sure you know the law.
- Shut your mouth and get a lawyer. The audio evidence Mr. Smith gave was damning enough but his testimony during the interview with the police, rammed a few more nails in his coffin. I can’t imagine a lawyer advising his clients to say some of the things he did.
- End the threat, not the person. The one does not exclude the other, of course. However, your goal when using lethal force in self-defense is to end the threat to your life. If that means running away, then the law requires you to do so. If you can’t run away, then you are entitled to defend yourself, but a reasonable person (which is how the law measures your actions…) does so precisely to get away. A reasonable person doesn’t start shooting people in the face after they’re shot down (and don’t seem to be getting up…), then drags bodies around and then shoots the next person only to talk to a recording device for hours and then wait a day before getting the police involved. Very little of what Mr. Smith did that day was reasonable and he now pays the price for it.
If your first reaction to reading this is “Bullshit!” then I can only shake my head and offer this:
Mr. Smith probably agrees with you. That said, he is 65 years old and will probably die in jail, as I seriously doubt an appeal will change the verdict. Is your opinion worth that to you?