Driver who killed Minneapolis protester in 2021 sentenced

The man who drove a car into a group of protesters, killing one person, in Minneapolis in June 2021 was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison.

Nicholas Kraus, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty in October to two of the three charges against him: second-degree assault and second-degree murder in the incident that killed Deona Marie Knajdek on June 13, 2021. A third charge of second-degree assault was dropped as part of the deal.

Kraus on Wednesday was sentenced to 45 months (3.75 years) in prison for the second-degree assault conviction and 240 months (20 years) for the second-degree murder conviction, which will run concurrently. The plea deal called for between 210-252 months in prison, with the defense asking for 210 months (17.5 years).

Prosecutors said Kraus plowed his SUV through a protest at the intersection of West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South in Uptown. The intersection had been blocked off by protesters after federal task force members shot and killed Winston Smith, a 32-year-old Black man. On Wednesday, Kraus' defense attorney William G. Selman III said this wasn't a politically motivated attack, and he didn't know there were protesters gathered in Uptown. 

Kraus admitted in court in October he drove into the barricades and crowd on purpose. But, under questioning, he said, "I don’t know what my intent was." He also admitted to being under the influence of an illegal narcotic at the time of the crash and to suffering from a mental health issue, including hearing voices. 

On Wednesday, Kraus told the court it "should have been me" who died that day, and expressed support for change and the Black Lives Matter movement. He admitted he made a poor choice that day, and Deona Marie's family should still have a daughter. He said he deserves the "top of the box" or the maximum sentence of 21 years in prison. He also apologized to the victim's family but said he doesn't expect them to forgive him.

During the hearing, a victim and Deona Marie's family gave victim impact statements before Kraus was sentenced. The victim said he disagreed with the plea deal and wanted Kraus to receive the maximum sentence allowed by law. 

Deona Marie's brother tearfully spoke to the court, saying he is "lost and broken" since his sister's death. Her mother also spoke to the court, calling Deona Marie her best friend. She said Deona Marie was artistic and clumsy – apparently tripping on a piece of pizza on a garage floor and breaking her arm – and that she cared for others more than herself. 

This story will be updated.