Washington County Attorney Pete Orput will handle the homicide case involving a Little Falls man accused of killing two teenagers who broke into his home in late November, it was announced Monday.
Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf told the Morrison County Record newspaper he named Orput and Washington County First Assistant Attorney Brent Wartner as Special Assistant Morrison County Attorneys to handle the second-degree murder case against Byron Smith.
Smith, 64, is charged with the Nov. 22 shooting deaths of Haile Kifer, 18, and Nick Brady, 17. Smith allegedly shot the teenagers multiple times Nov. 22, but the incident was not discovered until the next day when Smith called a neighbor to ask whether he know of an attorney. That neighbor then notified law enforcement about a possible shooting at Smith’s home.
Orput said today he agreed to help Middendorf’s office at the request of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and after discussing the situation with County Administrator Molly O’Rourke and the County Board of Commissioners.
“I was flattered. But more importantly, I really needed to look at this thing. Somebody needs to step up to the plate,” Orput said.
Orput is a career prosecutor of more than 24 years who has tried homicide cases throughout the state during his time with the state Attorney General’s Office criminal division.
Orput said the Middendorf appealed for help from the county attorney’s group after the Attorney General’s Office turned down Middendorf’s request for assistance from the AG’s criminal division.
“I was just told they turned it down,” Orput said about the AG’s decision.
He added that it is not unusual for the state’s county attorney’s offices to assist each other on cases.
“We did a lot for other counties,” Orput notes.
One reason for Middendorf’s request for help is that the Morrison County Attorney’s Office is handling nine homicide-related cases, an unprecedented number for the county.
“They have limited resources and they’re taxed to the wall,” Orput said. “It’s one where they’re strapped. They’re buried.”
Orput said both he and Wartner were in Little Falls recently to discuss the Smith case with Morrison County Attorney’s Office officials. Orput said a Jan. 22 omnibus hearing is scheduled in the case.
“We’ll know a lot more (about the case) on that date,” he said.
Orput said he is confident that he and Wartner can handle the Smith case and keep up with Washington County cases.
“I think I can manage it. It’s not going to be a long trial,” he said about the Little Falls case.
Orput also said he hopes the Smith trial offers important lessons about gun safety in homes.
“There are some morality tales I want to come back with,” he said. “One of them is, lock up your guns.”