Kentucky man who killed 2 Black customers at Kroger pleads guilty to federal hate crime charges

JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. — A Kentucky man serving life in prison for the 2018 murder of two Black customers at a Kroger supermarket pleaded guilty Thursday to federal hate crime and weapons charges.

Gregory Alan Bush Sr., 53, of Louisville, had previously pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the Oct. 24, 2018, murders of Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, both of Louisville, at a Kroger in nearby Jeffersontown. He was sentenced to prison in December.

Bush, who is white, targeted both Stallard and Jones because they were Black.

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“Today’s guilty plea will ensure that a violent and disturbed man will never get another chance to target and terrorize the Black community,” said Pamela S. Karlan, who serves as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It won’t bring back two pillars of the Louisville community, whose tragic and senseless deaths we mourn, but we hope it sends the message that the Department of Justice will work tirelessly to bring perpetrators of bias-motivated violence to justice.”

A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky detailed the allegations Bush admitted to in court. On the afternoon of the murders, he drove to the Kroger in Jeffersontown armed with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.

“In the store, Bush followed a Black man, who was shopping with his grandson, for the length of an aisle before pulling the gun from his waistband and shooting the victim in the back of the head,” the news release said. “Bush then shot the victim several more times in the torso, killing him.”

Stallard was at the store getting poster board to help his 12-year-old grandson with a school project, according to authorities and Stallard’s family. The boy was not injured in the shooting.

After killing Stallard, Bush calmly re-holstered his gun and walked outside, where he encountered Jones. He shot her several times in the head and torso, federal authorities said.

A third Black store customer exchanged gunfire with Bush in the parking lot while trying to stop the gunman. The man was not injured.

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Another bystander, who is white, also pulled out his legally-owned handgun when he heard the gunfire. The man, identified as Ed Harrell, told police and local news media that he asked Bush what was going on.

“Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites,” Bush said, according to court documents.

Bush had no prior relationship with either of his victims and chose them based solely on their race, authorities said.

At the time of his December sentencing, Bush’s attorney said her client’s schizophrenia was unmedicated when he shot and killed Stallard and Jones. 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 Bush had regained his competency following treatment.

Defense attorney Angela 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 the news station. “Mr. Bush has agreed to spend the remainder of his life in prison, where he can be safely treated and medicated.”

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.

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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.

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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.

Bush faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, on the federal charges. His sentencing is set for June 24.

Robert Brown, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Louisville field office, said in a statement last week that violence based on race has no place in the community.

“Hate cannot, and will not, win,” Brown said.