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Kroger shooting suspect indicted amid calls to strengthen Kentucky's hate crime laws

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The man accused in the shooting deaths of two grocery store patrons in Kentucky has been indicted on two counts of murder. Prosecutors say Gregory Bush was indicted Wednesday by a Jefferson County grand jury in the shootings Oct. 24 at a Kroger store in suburban Louisville. Bush also was indicted on one count of criminal attempted murder and two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment.

A federal prosecutor has said the rampage in Jeffersontown is being investigated as a possible federal hate crime. Bush is white and the two victims were black.

Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Thomas Wine said Wednesday that he believes Bush's actions were racially motivated, but Kentucky statute does not allow him to charge Bush separately with a hate crime at the local level -- that designation would be up to a judge at the sentencing phase. Wine, along with religious leaders, the Louisville mayor and some legislators, have called for the state's hate crime law, which doesn't cover homicides, to be strengthened in the wake of the Kroger killings and the shooting rampage that left 11 dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday.

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Gregory Bush

WLKY-TV

"No matter what the legalities of it are, hate caused this damage in our community and we will not stand for it," the Rev. David Snardon, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition, said at a press conference Monday.

Bush was seen on surveillance video trying to enter a historically black church minutes before the shootings at the grocery store. He was not able to enter the church, police said. About 70 people had been inside First Baptist Church Jeffersontown earlier that day for a Bible study, but it had ended by the time Bush arrived and the doors were locked.

The information came as news media outlets reported that Bush made a racial comment after the deadly shooting. Ed Harrell was quoted by the Courier Journal of Louisville as saying he was waiting for his wife in the parking lot when he heard gunshots and grabbed his revolver. As he crouched down, he said he saw the gunman walk "nonchalantly" by with a gun by his side. Harrell said he called out to ask what was going on, and the gunman replied: "Don't shoot me. I won't shoot you. Whites don't shoot whites."

Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers last week said he couldn't speculate on motive, but speaking Sunday at the First Baptist Church he denounced the shooting as racially motivated. He called it the "elephant in the room that some don't want to acknowledge in this case" and said it needed to be addressed as a part of a larger dialogue, reports the Courier Journal.

"I won't stand here and pretend that none of us know what could have happened if that evil man had gotten in the doors of this church," Rogers reportedly said.

Some activists criticized some local, state and federal officials for being slow to call the Kroger shooting a hate crime, reports the Courier Journal, and said the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was immediately denounced as a hate crime by top officials including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The shooting suspect in that case, Robert Bowers, was on Wednesday charged in a 44-count federal hate crime indictment.

In the Kroger shooting, police said there didn't appear to be any connection between Bush and the victims, or any link between Bush and the Kroger store. Rogers said Bush apparently does have a history of mental illness.

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Maurice Stallard, left, and Vickie Jones, right, were killed in a shooting rampage at a Jeffersontown, Ky. Kroger store

An arrest report says Bush walked into the Kroger, pulled a gun from his waist and shot a man -- identified by the coroner's office as Maurice Stallard, 69 -- in the back of the head, then kept shooting him multiple times "as he was down on the floor." The report says Bush then reholstered his gun, walked outside and killed a woman in the parking lot. She's been identified as Vicki Lee Jones, 67. Each victim died of multiple gunshot wounds, Rogers said. Rogers said Bush was standing at arm's length when he shot the woman in the back of the head.

A man carrying a concealed weapon who happened to be in the parking lot challenged Bush, and police say the suspect then "began firing wildly" at him, putting other shoppers in the parking lot in danger. Neither man was hurt in that confrontation, Rogers said.

Bush tried to flee, but was apprehended several hundred yards from the store.

Stallard's 12-year-old grandson was shopping with him in the store when Stallard was gunned down, Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf said Thursday. The boy was physically unharmed, but most certainly traumatized, the mayor said, adding, "He was there and cannot unsee what he has seen."

Wine says Bush is eligible under state law for the death penalty, but said he will wait to speak with the victims' families before deciding whether he will pursue it.