Man who shot school bus driver on I-35W in Minneapolis sentenced to over 7 years in prison

The man who shot a school bus driver on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis last winter was sentenced to more than seven years in prison Friday. 

Kenneth Lilly, 32, was charged with second-degree attempted murder in the Feb. 5 shooting. He pleaded guilty in August to a lesser charge of first-degree assault for seriously injuring the 78-year-old bus driver. 

Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic cameras captured the incident as it unfolded. 

Lilly claims the school bus hit his car while merging onto I-35W. That is when the uniformed security guard got out of this vehicle to confront the bus driver. 

When the bus driver refused to open the door, Lilly fired five shots into the front of the bus. The bus driver was shot twice, one bullet grazing his head and another striking his arm. The victim’s attorney says his client is now deaf in his left ear and suffered nerve injuries to his hand and arm. 

A student was on the bus at the time, but she was not injured.  

At the time, Lilly claimed self-defense saying he shot through the windshield of the bus because the driver was trying to run him over.

This was not Lilly’s first violent confrontation. In 2015, Lilly, who had a permit to carry, shot and killed a 16-year-old boy in St. Paul who was attempting to rob him. 

Ultimately, prosecutors decided not to press charges, saying his use of deadly force was justified.     

On Friday, a Hennepin County judge sentenced Lilly to 86 months in prison. 

Lilly apologized at sentencing, saying, "I overreacted to the situation that I believed inaccurately was a threat to my life. I acted in a hyper-vigilant manner."

His attorneys argued the shooting was a mistaken case of self-defense and were hoping for a lesser three-year sentence. They said his autism and prior experiences, including being the victim of armed robberies, made him hyper-vigilant prone to overreaction.

The bus driver, Thomas Benson, also shared an impact statement in court, describing the emotional physical toll the shooting has had on him.

One kindergartner was also on the school bus at the time of the shooting. The girl's father, Justin Poacher, said he wasn't fully satisfied with Lilly's sentence.

"It was basically attempted murder," said Poacher. "No other way to sugarcoat it. I don’t understand why they took attempted murder off as part of the plea bargain. Not happy with it.”