Maplewood driver who fatally struck pedestrian in hit-and-run gets 1 year

·3 min read

Nov. 29—A Maplewood man will spend a year in the Ramsey County workhouse and then be on probation for 15 years for hitting and killing a man with his car and leaving the scene in January.

A stayed prison sentence of four years will be imposed should he violate terms of his probation.

Robert Wilson Kinney Jr., 58, was sentenced Monday in Ramsey County District Court by Judge JaPaul Harris for driving drunk and causing the death of 68-year-old John Benjamin of St. Paul on Jan. 22.

"What you did was inhumane; it was stupid, and it was something that was very preventable," Harris said to Kinney. "The level of remorse you are taking is not satisfactory."

Richard Riley, who identified himself as Benjamin's brother and friend, gave an emotional statement to the judge, asking that Kinney get prison time for his actions. Instructed to speak only to the judge, Riley struggled, stopping to sob openly, and turned several times to address Kinney instead.

"You are a very bad person," Riley said to Kinney. "Shame on you. You left him ... I don't know how long my brother lay there dying. You couldn't even make a call?"

Harris said the sentence was a dispositional downward departure from the state guidelines and said the reason for his decision was that Kinney was amenable to probation and was in treatment for sobriety.

The defense attorney, Charles Clippert, asked if Kinney could be allowed work release, meaning he could leave the jail during the day to go to work and return. Harris said he would leave that up to officials at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility.

According to charges, Kinney was drinking at the 5-8 Tavern & Grill at 2289 E. Minnehaha Ave. in Maplewood and had downed 16 shots (or eight doubles) of alcohol before driving away about 8:20 p.m. in his gray Chevy Classic.

About 8:37 p.m., officers were called to the area, about two blocks from the bar, where they found Benjamin face down in a snow bank, covered in blood. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police found Kinney through an anonymous tipster who said Kinney had been at the bar drinking, and that he drove a car similar in color to the debris left behind at the scene.

Kinney was located and arrested. He told police he knew his car was damaged, but seemed unsure as to how the damage occurred.

Benjamin was deaf and didn't drive. He walked a lot, according to people who knew him. Family described him as a "loving, compassionate, humble man."

Prosecutor Makenzie Lee read a long letter from the family advising Kinney to seek God, repent of his sins and make amends. They also said they forgave him.

Lee requested Kinney serve four years because he showed little remorse and did not accept responsibility for his actions, and because he has two prior DWI convictions.

"The state understands the defendant has realized that he has a problem with alcohol, but it shouldn't have taken the loss of an innocent life to realize that," Lee said.

Kinney, who came to court in a gray shirt and tie, sat quietly in a COVID-19 mask throughout the hearing. He said he was moved by the victim impact statements. He pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide on Oct. 5.

"I deeply regret what I did," he said. "I deeply apologize for taking another man's life."

He was taken into custody at the close of the hearing.

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