JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. — A Kentucky man who fatally shot two people at a Kroger grocery store in 2018 because they were Black has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gregory Alan Bush Sr., 53, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to two counts of murder, criminal attempted murder and wanton endangerment on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. Defense attorney Angela Elleman said in a statement that her client’s schizophrenia was unmedicated on Oct. 24, 2018, when he killed Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, both of Louisville, at a Kroger in nearby Jeffersontown.
Stallard, who the Louisville Courier-Journal reported was at Kroger buying poster board with his 12-year-old grandson, was shot inside the store. Jones was killed in the parking lot.
“Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard were senselessly murdered because of the color of their skin,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said in a statement, according to the newspaper. “Our entire community and commonwealth had suffered a loss because of racial enmity.”
Bush was initially found incompetent to stand trial after a doctor testified that he suffered from hallucinations and delusions of persecution, WDRB in Louisville reported. Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Annie O’Connell ruled in August that he had regained his competency following treatment.
On Tuesday, Elleman cited Bush’s mental illness as the catalyst for the murders.
“He acted out of his psychosis and his illness, while at the very same time his elderly parents were downtown seeking a mental inquest warrant to hospitalize him for everyone’s safety,” the defense lawyer said, according to WDRB.
‘You have ruined my life. I’d like to just have an idea why’
The news station reported that Jones’ sister told Bush during a remote court hearing that her sister would not wish him harm.
“You have taken a person who would have loved you if she had met you on the street,” said the woman, whose name WDRB reported was not audible. “I can’t understand why this happened. I pray for you because I don’t know how you look at yourself in the mirror.”
Stallard’s wife, Charlotte Stallard, questioned why Bush targeted her husband, a retiree from the Veterans Affairs hospital.
“I just don’t understand why you selected anyone,” Stallard said during victim impact statements. “It can’t be just for the color of their skin. To me, it has to be more than that. You can’t hate someone that much for the color of their skin.
“You have ruined my life. I’d like to just have an idea why.”
The couple’s daughter, Kellie Watson, also spoke about her father, who was at the store with her son, helping him with a school project. Watson works as Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s chief equity officer.
“The man whose life you took, he gave and he loved everybody around him,” Watson said, according to WDRB. “He was there for everybody.
“I hope that while you are sitting in jail, you are able to reconcile your own life and think about what you did. And I’m grateful you will never be able to hurt anyone else.”
Elleman said in her statement that Bush’s violent actions the day of the murders were outside of his character when he is medicated.
“Mr. Bush has agreed to spend the remainder of his life in prison, where he can be safely treated and medicated,” she said.
The news station reported immediately after the shooting, however, that Bush had a history of domestic violence, including repeatedly using the N-word to refer to his former wife, who WAVE3 in Louisville reported is Black.
Then-Jeffersontown police Chief Sam Rogers also told reporters in 2018 that just before he went to Kroger, Bush tried to gain access into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, which has a predominantly Black congregation.
Rogers said that a tip from a city employee who saw Bush near the church right before the shooting led investigators to the church’s security cameras. The footage showed Bush trying to get inside.
“He was unsuccessful in gaining access to the church,” Rogers said.
WDRB reported that a church member in the parking lot spotted Bush banging on the church doors and trying to open them. Church officials said the timing of Bush’s arrival was fortunate because he arrived after a midday church service had concluded.
“Loss of life anywhere is pretty tragic, but just to think that an hour and a half earlier, we had 70 people in the church,” church administrator Billy Williams told the news station. “But by the time he came through, all doors were locked and there were probably eight or 10 (people) still in the building.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr has agreed not to seek the death penalty on those charges.
‘Whites don’t shoot whites’
Rogers said 911 calls began coming in from Kroger at 2:54 p.m. the day of the shooting. The first officers arrived at the scene two minutes later, and by 2:58 p.m., Bush was in custody.
He had fled the scene in his vehicle, but he was taken into custody on a road adjacent to the shopping center where the grocery store is located.
“Once the scene was secure and the suspect was in custody, we had the daunting task of identifying and interviewing a multitude of witnesses,” Rogers said.
Witnesses and store surveillance video indicated Bush “pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot (Stallard) in the rear of the head and again multiple times as he was down on the floor,” an arrest warrant stated, according to WAVE3 in Louisville. “(He) then exited the Kroger store, being observed by witnesses reholstering his weapon until he exited.”
Stallard’s grandson, who witnessed his grandfather’s slaying, ran outside, where a bystander took him to his own car to shield him, WDRB reported. The boy called his mother from there to tell her his grandfather had been shot.
The store’s surveillance video and additional witnesses indicated Bush drew his gun again in the parking lot, shooting Jones multiple times, WAVE3 reported.
One of the more than 120 witnesses who had to be interviewed was Ed Harrell, who told the Courier-Journal that he was waiting in the parking lot for his wife when he heard gunshots.
He grabbed his own revolver and crouched down next to his car, the Courier-Journal reported. Harrell told the newspaper he saw the gunman walk “nonchalantly” through the parking lot, gun at his side.
Harrell called out to him, asking him what was going on.
“Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites,” Bush said, according to Harrell.
Another bystander exchanged gunfire with Bush in the parking lot. No one was injured and no charges were filed against the man.
He also threatened to shoot them both in the head and unplugged the phone so the couple could not call for help, the records show.
“Both victims are terrified of (Bush’s) unpredictable behavior,” an officer wrote in a report.
Bush’s parents told officers he padlocked their doors and once, when his cellphone would not work, he shot the phone, WDRB reported. Bush’s then-10-year-old son was present.
Records show that Bush was hospitalized at least twice due to his mental health, including for a 2000 suicide attempt, the news station said. His wife, from whom he was divorced that year, at one point told authorities he’d been diagnosed as “paranoid” and was prescribed medication, but stopped taking it.
Following the cellphone incident in 2009, a judge ordered Bush to take his medication and get mental health treatment.
The “About Gregory” section of a Facebook page belonging to Bush stated in 2018 that he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The page appears to have since been deactivated.
“I have worked most of my life and battled mental illness throughout my life,” the description stated. “My paranoid schizophrenia finally stopped me from working and now am on mental disability. I’m lucky I made it this far with all the trouble I’ve caused myself when I get off my medicine.”
Bush’s Facebook posts were largely unremarkable, but in August 2017 he signed a Change.org petition asking Kentucky’s governor to save the state’s Civil War monuments.
A tweet written in June 2018 by someone with the Twitter handle @GregoryAlanBush said there were people who wanted him dead.
“They high jack (sic) my frequency and tell lies about me,” the owner of the account wrote.
The tweet included the hashtag #LongLiveThePersecuted.
Cox Media Group