Man faces murder, assault charges in death of Winston Smith protester

People sit near a circle of flowers on the ground.
Demonstrators sit on the sidewalk next to a memorial for Deona Erickson at the site where she was killed by a driver while at a vigil for Winston Smith in Minneapolis on Monday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Hennepin County prosecutors on Wednesday charged a St. Paul man with second-degree intentional murder in connection with the death late Sunday of Deona Erickson.

Nicholas Kraus, 35, is also charged with two counts of second-degree assault. 

Erickson, who would have turned 32 on Wednesday, was among a group of demonstrators who had gathered near Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue in the Uptown area of Minneapolis to protest the law enforcement killing June 3 of Winston Smith, also 32. 

Nicholas Kraus
Nicholas Kraus
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Kraus allegedly crashed a Jeep SUV into a car that was parked across the traffic lanes to protect demonstrators. The force of the collision pushed the car into Erickson and others nearby. She was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital after suffering severe head trauma. 

About 90 minutes after the crash, activist D.J. Hooker, who witnessed it, told MPR News that the SUV appeared to be traveling “70 or 80 miles an hour” before it struck the other vehicle.  

Hooker said that the SUV accelerated before crashing. Authorities said in a criminal complaint that surveillance video “confirms the eyewitness accounts that the vehicle was accelerating,” and that Kraus appeared “visibly intoxicated.” However the complaint does not estimate how fast Kraus was driving. 

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Surveillance video shows Kraus driving back into the crowd after crashing into the parked car, according to the complaint.

Video that Hooker posted to social media shows protesters detaining Kraus before handing him over to officers. 

Prosecutors say at least two other people were hurt, including a man who suffered leg and rib injuries.  

In an interview with investigators, Kraus allegedly said that he accelerated “in order to try and jump the barricade,” and acknowledged that he did not try to stop. 

In a search warrant, Minneapolis police said Kraus gave incoherent answers to officers’ questions — and alternatively said his name was Jesus Christ and the film director Tim Burton and said that “he has been a carpenter for 2,000 years.”

According to the warrant, surveillance video also shows that the brake lights on Kraus’ SUV did not illuminate before the crash.

Kraus has five convictions for driving while impaired dating back to 2007. Court records show that authorities canceled his driver’s license in 2013 after he pleaded guilty to first-degree DWI, a felony. 

Kraus pleaded guilty to DWI for a fifth time in 2017. According to the criminal complaint in that case, Kraus refused to give a breath test, saying he had “no respect” for the officer who pulled him over.

Separately on Wednesday, the Minnesota National Guard said it had activated about 100 soldiers from a military police unit at the request of the city of Minneapolis “for potential support to civil unrest within the city.”

The soldiers are not currently in Minneapolis but “standing by and prepared to respond if their presence is needed,” the guard said in a statement.