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Minnesota man charged with murder after allegedly plowing car into protest and killing woman

A Minnesota man accused of driving his car into a group of protesters and killing one has been charged with murder, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said Wednesday. Nicholas Kraus was allegedly drunk at the time of the incident, which does not appear to have been a targeted attack.

The alleged incident occurred just before midnight on June 13 during a peaceful protest over the death of Winston Boogie Smith Jr., a 32-year-old Black man who was shot by members of a federal U.S. Marshals Service task force on June 3. 

Kraus, 35, is accused of driving his Jeep SUV toward the protesters and striking another vehicle that had been parked as a protective barricade for the demonstrators, thereby pushing the barricade vehicle into the victims. Witness accounts and surveillance video show that Kraus was accelerating at the time of the crash, according to the criminal complaint

One woman, who sustained "severe trauma to her head," was found unresponsive at the scene and later died at a local hospital, the complaint said. Three other people also sustained injuries. The deceased victim has been identified by CBS Minnesota as 31-year-old Deona Knajdek, an activist and mother of two.

Kraus has been charged with one count of intentional second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. The complaint does not suggest Kraus' actions were politically motivated, and the intentional second-degree murder charge alleges that although Kraus intended to cause death, his actions were not planned.

During a Tuesday press conference on the charges against Kraus and another man charged in a separate incident, Hennepin County District Attorney Mike Freeman said there is no evidence Kraus targeted the protest specifically. 

But he nevertheless issued a strong statement condemning Kraus and the other defendant, noting that while normally cases such as these are charged as criminal vehicular homicide, the men's conduct was "so serious, in my view, they warranted a second-degree intentional charge."

Kraus was detained by other people on the scene, and was "visibly intoxicated" when officers arrived, the complaint said. When he was interviewed the following day, he allegedly told officers that he saw the car acting as a barricade and that "he believed he needed to get over it." 

"The defendant stated that he accelerated in order to try and jump the barricade and acknowledged that he did not attempt to brake," the complaint said. "The defendant admitted that he floored the accelerator because he thought that would help him jump the barricade." 

Kraus allegedly admitted to officers that the vehicle was registered in another person's name because he had lost his license due to alcohol violations. The complaint said Kraus has multiple DWI convictions, including a felony DWI conviction. His blood test results are pending. 

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