The St. Paul man who shot and wounded a school bus driver earlier this year on a snowy Minneapolis freeway was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison.
Kenneth W. Lilly, 32, apologized but could not convince a judge that he feared for his life and should be granted the minimum term his attorneys were seeking — three years.
“I’ll accept you’re not a monster,” said Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill.
But the judge said he didn’t believe Lilly feared for his life when he was struck by the bus moving at a “snail’s pace” in the middle of a snowstorm. Cahill noted that Lilly walked back and forth in front of the bus multiple times after it bumped into him.
Someone who feared the bus driver meant to drive over him would not behave as such, Cahill said before chastising Lilly for not knowing that a child was on board.
“You should have known that,” Cahill said. “What else would a school bus be carrying?”
Lilly pleaded guilty in August to one count of first-degree assault for firing five times at Thomas Benson on Feb. 5 near the merging of Interstates 94 and 35W south of downtown Minneapolis.
As part of the plea deal, the original counts — second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault — were dismissed. He also agreed to a prison term of between three and eight years.
Senior Hennepin County Attorney Dan Allard argued in court for eight years given the severity of the injuries to Benson and the psychological harm to an 8-year-old girl who was on the bus at the time.
“Only by luck did this victim not get killed after being struck by several bullets,” Allard said. “[Lilly] shot at an unarmed man with a little girl on the bus. … He did not care.”
The girl was not physically harmed, but her father, Justin Porcher, said in court that the incident has caused her to lash out at family members. She also has nightmares of family members dying.
“She had no way to escape,” Porcher said of the shooting. “She has become very fearful … that other bad things will happen.” Porcher told Cahill the maximum term wasn’t enough for Lilly’s crimes.
“This has taken some of her innocence from her,” Porcher said.
Benson, who was 78 at the time, also gave a victim-impact statement, describing how one bullet split open his left ear, a second struck his finger and lodged in his bicep, and a third struck his left shoulder.
Benson said he is deaf in his left ear because of the injury and uses a hearing aid in the other ear.
“Sometimes I can’t hear at all,” he said, adding that because of the injuries to his left shoulder, “I find myself randomly dropping things.”
Benson is lefthanded. His attorney, James Sheehy, said Benson can no longer work as a driver because he cannot properly grip with his left hand.
Sheehy said he is considering “all avenues to secure further justice” for Benson, including seeking financial compensation from Lilly’s employer at the time, State Wide Protective Agency.
Lilly said at his plea hearing that he got out of his vehicle to exchange information with Benson after the bus struck his vehicle on the freeway. Lilly said the bus then moved forward and struck his body lightly, prompting him to draw his 9-millimeter handgun and fire five times at Benson through the windshield.
Lilly was working as an armed security guard at the time. One of Lilly’s attorneys, Thomas Plunkett, argued in court that Lilly should receive the lowest term because he has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because he was the victim of an attempted robbery at knife point and another attempted robbery at gunpoint.
“Life has made Mr. Lilly hypervigilant,” Plunkett said. “Mr. Lilly has been inaccurately painted as an armed madman.”
In 2015, Ramsey County prosecutors found Lilly “legally justified” when he shot and killed 16-year-old Lavauntai Broadbent during a robbery attempt at a park in St. Paul. Broadbent brandished a gun at Lilly, who had a permit to carry.
Lilly apologized to Benson, the girl and his family when he was given an opportunity to speak.
“To the people that this has affected — I cannot say that I am sorry enough, especially to the child and to [Benson],” he said. “I overreacted.”
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib