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Minn. man gets most severe charge in teens' deaths

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man accused of killing two teenagers who broke into his home last year has been indicted on first-degree murder charges, prosecutors announced Thursday.

A Morrison County grand jury indicted Byron Smith, 64, under seal Wednesday on two counts of first-degree murder with premeditation. The new charges were announced after a court appearance. If convicted, Smith faces a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole.

Initially, Smith was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the Nov. 22 deaths of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer. Prosecutors say Smith shot the teens multiple times and left their bodies in his Little Falls house for a day before authorities were notified.

In order to bring someone to trial for first-degree murder in Minnesota, a grand jury indictment must be issued.

One of Smith's attorneys, Adam Johnson, said Smith was acting in self-defense and was defending his dwelling. Under Minnesota law, a person may use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home or dwelling.

Defense attorneys have said that Smith's property had been burglarized before and that he was scared. Court documents show Brady was involved in at least two of the prior burglaries at Smith's property.

Brady and Kifer, who were cousins, also have been linked to another burglary that happened the day before they were killed. In that case, six bottles of prescription drugs were stolen and found in a car linked to them.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput is handling the case for Morrison County, because prosecutors there cited a conflict of interest. During Thursday's court appearance, Orput asked that Smith's bail be set at $2 million, given the nature of the offense.

Smith posted $50,000 bail in December, and has been free since then. Judge Doug Anderson ruled Thursday that his conditions of bail would remain the same.

"We look forward to proving this case ... and bringing justice to these two high school students whose lives were so violently and prematurely ended," Orput said in a statement.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.