Minneapolis, MN – Nicholas Kraus was given a 20 year prison sentence after pleading guilty to second degree murder for killing Deona Marie Erickson, who also went by Knajdek, and injuring others during a protest for Winston Smith in 2021. Driving a Jeep, Kraus purposely accelerated for blocks, weaponizing the vehicle to ram into a barricade for the protests. Kraus was forcibly detained by protesters, turned over to police and has been in jail since shortly after the incident which happened just before midnight on June 13, 2021.
Kraus turned 37-years-old on Nov. 29, 2022 and spent his day being transferred from Hennepin County Jail to Minnesota Correctional Facility Saint Cloud, with the Hennepin County Sheriff reporting he left their jail at 7:09 a.m.
Minnesota state prisons allow “good time” which means Kraus only has to serve two-thirds of the 20 year sentence. According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, he has an anticipated release date of Oct. 12, 2034.
Some activists call Kraus a domestic terrorist and a white supremacist. While Unicorn Riot has not found any evidence to backup the white supremacist claim, many say his actions attacking dozens of community members protesting against a Black man killed by authorities speak for itself. However, Kraus, who was already a five-time convicted drunken driver with a suspended license, claimed the car attack was not politically or racially motivated and that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Kraus had previously told police that “he floored the accelerator” in attempts to “jump the barricade [Deona Marie’s car].”
During the sentencing hearing, Kraus asked for the heaviest sentence possible and said “it should’ve been me that died because they [Deona and the protesters] were fighting for stuff that’s going on in this world that shouldn’t be going on.”
Winston Boogie Smith Jr. was killed by a federal task force in Uptown Minneapolis on June 3, 2021, atop a parking ramp as he was in a car with his date. The killing led to weeks of sustained protests. Smith’s killers were cleared of any wrongdoing by Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan in Oct. 2021.
Affected by Smith’s killing and a consistent activist during the initial June protests, Deona Marie, 31, was a mother of two and a program manager at a facility for adults with disabilities. Erickson showed up daily to the protests demanding justice for Smith.
During the night of June 13, 2021, Erickson had parked her car longways across road lanes to protect protestors who gathered on the south side of Girard Avenue and Lake Street in Uptown Minneapolis.
She was sitting down on the sidewalk about 15 feet from her car moments before Kraus smashed directly against her car which then hit her, sending her flying. Street medics on the scene resuscitated her but she later died at the hospital. Two others were injured and all involved suffered psychological trauma.
Before the attack, Kraus had seen the gathering and revved his engine from a few blocks away, continued to gain speed, and revved the engine again before the fatal collision. Kraus then got out of the Jeep he was in and tried to run, but was detained by protesters who in turn were greeted by Minneapolis Police officers in riot gear spraying pepper spray at them as they sought medical help and to turn the killer over to the police.
Two nights after the car attack, Unicorn Riot heard from activist Tony Clark, who took part in detaining Kraus and turning him over to the police. After a long night of police operations clearing Winston Smith protesters from Uptown streets, Clark spoke about his experience that fatal night. He spoke about Deona, the crash, turning Kraus over to the police and the need for Kraus to face a murder charge for his actions.
Kraus was initially charged with criminal vehicular homicide, driving after license cancellation, and giving false information to the police. The day after we heard from Clark, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office filed three additional felonies on Kraus – second degree intentional murder and two counts of second degree assault with a dangerous weapon – while dropping the initial charges. [Criminal Complaint – PDF]
On Oct. 21, 2022, a year and a half after the attack and three days before a jury trial was scheduled, Kraus signed papers pleading guilty to second degree murder without intent and second degree assault. [Read the guilty plea paperwork – PDF]
On Nov. 23, 2022 Hennepin County District Court Judge Paul Scoggin sentenced Kraus to 240 months for murder and 45 months for assault. The assault sentencing runs concurrent with the murder sentencing, adding no additional prison time. Kraus was given 529 days time served in an amended sentencing [pdf] a week later and a day before he was transferred to prison (the judge failed to mention time served during initial sentencing on Nov. 23).
The ramming by Kraus wasn’t nearly the first time a driver used his vehicle to attack protesters in the Twin Cities and wasn’t the last. During a protest just six months later outside the Hennepin County Government Center on the first day of the trial of Kim Potter for killing Daunte Wright, a car rammed through the demo bringing many bad memories back to those who witnessed the Kraus attack.
Since the movement for Black lives started hitting the streets after the Trayvon Martin killing in 2012, over a dozen car attacks have occurred in the Twin Cities metro area. Kraus is the only attacker convicted in Minnesota. In cities across the USA, vehicular attacks against anti-racist and anti-police protests have also regularly taken place.
Deona Marie was at least the third white woman and/or femme non-binary person who lost their lives in the United States after being hit by vehicles while they were protesting against racism and police in a four year span: Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville in 2017 opposing white supremacists and Summer Taylor was killed in Seattle in 2020 during a march for Black femmes.
After Deona was killed, an internationalist anarchist woman in the Rojava Revolution in Kurdistan sent the following statement (see the full statement here):
“Every martyr is another reason to continue, another example to hold ourselves up to. For every woman who’s life they take, for every comrade, for every person who stands up to defend their community, who’s light they try to extinguish, we can make sure that a hundred rise up in their place. The time when we could be separated on the basis of race, class and gender is coming to an end.
When we sacrifice for each other in this way, as comrades, as people who share a freedom struggle, the methods of our enemies turn to dust. This is the time for us to defend our communities like Deona did. Anything else and we won’t have risen to her standard. Her choice to defend was a sacred act of love–let us all be lead by it.“