This took place on a Sunday night in the city of Minneapolis. A crowd of protesters had assembled behind a barricade to protest the police-involved shooting of Winston Smith. Nicholas Kraus, 35, of neighboring St. Paul, happened to be out driving when he saw the protest and decided to vault over the barricades. No mention of how he planned to avoid coming down on the protesters massed behind the barricade.

It ended badly.

Here’s the account in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Murder Charge…allegedly drunk at the time

According to the charges against him, Kraus admitted that he had intentionally floored the accelerator thinking that he could clear the obstruction, but instead struck a parked vehicle. One person was killed, others injured. A witness grabbed and held him until police arrived to make the arrest.

The deceased: A 31-year-old mother of two. Police say they found no evidence that this was a racially or politically motivated attack. Instead, they pointed to Kraus’ criminal record, which includes:

  • Five previous DWI convictions, between 2008 and 2016.
  • Numerous other convictions for driving without a license or insurance.
  • Still more convictions, for assault and for giving the police a false name.

His driver’s license? That had actually been canceled back in 2013. And apparently he was still on probation for that 2016 drunk driving conviction. Sounds like he refused the breath test, so we have no way of knowing if alcohol was involved or how much.

But as for his state of mind, the report describes his behavior as “bizarre”. At one point, the officer claimed, Kraus gave his name as “Jesus Christ” and said he had been “a carpenter for 2,000 years.” The officer concluded, reasonably enough I thought, that “… the male is under the influence of an intoxicating substance.”

Aside from the tragedy itself, the incident once again served to ignite the discussion about appropriate punishment.

Another protester who was there at the time said the charges– intentional murder in the second degree– weren’t strong enough. Because Kraus acknowledges speeding up as he approached the barrier, and the cameras back that up, he should be charged with premeditated murder instead of intentional.

“That sounds like a plot or a plan to me,” the witness argued. Yes it does. Not a good plan, but a plan nonetheless.

The Hennepin County attorney had this to say when questioned later about Kraus’ history and the problem of repeat DWI offenders who go on to eventually commit crimes such as this one.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “…people who have serious drinking issues often relapse and go right back into it, and too often they drive… We simply don’t lock up everyone who has a drinking issue.”

“Our alternative is to increase and lengthen our sentences for people who have serious drinking problems, and so far the Legislature hasn’t been willing to do that, and I’m not sure society wants a person — even if they have their second or third DWI — to be put in prison for 25 years. I certainly don’t.”

Locking someone up for 25 years versus letting them keep driving under the influence, over and over again? There has to be some sane middle ground. If only we could find it.