A drunk, unlicensed driver who killed an uptown protester is sentenced to 20 years in jail

A St. Paul man was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison for plowing his SUV into a crowd of uptown protesters last summer, killing a young mother and injuring three others.

Nicholas Kraus, 36, appeared in Hennepin County District Court, where activists and the family of Deona Marie Knajdek, 31, packed the courtroom in support of her mother and family reading victim impact statements before Judge Paul Scoggin. Paul DeMaris, an injured activist, also made a statement about how he lives with the survivor’s trauma and guilt.

Kraus told Scoggin that he deserved the harshest punishment under the law and he should have been the one who died in the crash.

“It should have been me,” he said repeatedly.

Kraus pleaded guilty to second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon last month, just as he was due to stand trial. The second-degree murder charge carries a possible sentence of 17 1/2 to 21 years in prison, according to the plea.

When he accelerated toward protesters on June 13, 2021, he was drunk and without a license. He has been banned since 2013, when the state classified him as a public safety hazard following another drunk driving conviction.

The fatal attack ignited protests against the fatal shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr. by US Marshals. For ten days, Knajdek and other activists occupied W. Lake Street and S. Girard Avenue, the intersection where Smith was killed on a parking ramp on June 3. They named the crossing Wince-Marie Way in honor of Smith and Knajdek with a memorial and community garden.

Knajdek’s vehicle, adorned with a lime green BLM bumper sticker, was part of the barricade the night Kraus said he tried to jump his vehicle over the crowd. Activists arrested Kraus, who appeared drunk and claimed to be Jesus Christ and “a carpenter for 2,000 years,” he told police.

He was found fit to stand trial. Despite the admission and corroboration of eyewitness accounts through video surveillance that he sped into the crowd, as part of his pleading, the charge of first degree first degree murder was changed to unintentional. He pleaded guilty to second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon for injuring another protester, but a second assault count for injuring another protester was dropped.

Kraus has five convictions for drunk driving. He was also convicted multiple times of driving without a valid driver’s license and of assault, not having car insurance and giving a false name to police.

Knajdek worked as a program manager for Cottages Group, a Twin Cities-based home care provider for at-risk adults. She is survived by two young daughters.

This is an evolving story. Check startribune.com for updates.

Comments are closed.