The FBI has launched a federal hate-crime investigation into the double slaying of two African-American shoppers at a Kentucky grocery store as murder charges were filed against the suspect, a man who reportedly told a witness who confronted him “whites don’t shoot whites.”
The suspect, Gregory Bush, 51, was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Louisville on two counts of murder, one count of criminal attempted murder and two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.
Tom Wine, the Jefferson County commonwealth attorney, told reporters Wednesday that he had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty against Bush. Wine said he first wants to discuss the case with the families of the victims before deciding if he will pursue the ultimate punishment if Bush is convicted of murder.
“It’s too early to talk to them about that weighty decision,” Wine said of the loved ones of Vickie Jones, 67, and Maurice Stallard, 69, who were allegedly gunned down by Bush inside a Kroger store on Oct. 24 in Jeffersontown.
Meanwhile, Russell Coleman, the U.S. Attorney for Kentucky, announced the FBI and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division have initiated a hate-crime investigation in the slayings of Jones and Stallard.
“Experienced civil rights prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division are assigned to this matter, including prosecutors who have charged and taken to trial hate crime murders,” Coleman said in a statement to ABC News Thursday. “Those prosecutors and all of us are working to ensure that justice will be done in this case. In the interim, Mr. Bush remains detained and is no further threat to the public.”
Bush appeared in court for arraignment on October 25. He was appointed a public defender, who requested that the suspect’s $5 million bail be reduced. A judge denied the request, saying there is reason to believe Bush is a danger to the community.
The public defender assigned to represent Bush at the arraignment declined to comment. Bush has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Bush was ordered to return to court on Friday for a preliminary hearing, records showed.
Police said that just prior to the killings at the Kroger store, Bush was spotted outside the First Baptist Church, a historically black church in Jeffersontown.
Bush was captured on the church’s security footage trying to get into the house of worship, which was closed at the time, according to the police.
After failing to enter the church, Bush went to the nearby Kroger grocery store, police said.
Without warning, Bush allegedly shot Stallard in the head, according to a statement released by the Jeffersontown Police Department. The suspect then exited the store and shot and killed Jones in the parking lot, police said.
Ed Harrell, told the Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville that he was in the parking lot waiting for his wife who was shopping when he saw the suspect with a gun. Harrell said he grabbed his handgun, crouched down near his vehicle and yelled at the suspect, asking what was going on.
Harrell, who is white, said the suspect replied, “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”
Harrell didn’t fire his weapon, but another armed citizen did, police said.
“While in the parking lot, a citizen possessing a carry concealed permit and armed with a handgun engaged the suspect at that time which resulted in an exchange of gunfire that lasted several moments amongst the parked vehicles in the store’s parking lot,” police said in the statement.
“Multiple rounds were fired by both the suspect and the intervening citizen. Neither the suspect nor the involved citizen, nor other bystanders were injured with this exchange of gunfire,” according to the police statement.
Police said that after exchanging gunshots with the armed citizen, Bush made it to his vehicle and fled the parking lot. Officers responding to the scene stopped Bush nearby and arrested him, police said.