A white Kentucky man who is accused of killing two African-Americans in a shooting at a Louisville-area grocery store was indicted Wednesday in their deaths.
A Jefferson County grand jury returned an indictment against Gregory Bush, 51, for two counts of murder, one count of criminal attempted murder and two counts of wanton endangerment, NBC affiliate WAVE reported.
Bush allegedly opened fire on Maurice Stallard, 69, from behind and without warning at the Kroger store in Jeffersontown, east of Louisville, on Oct. 24, and then fatally shot Vickie Lee Jones, 67, in the parking lot.
In Kentucky, hate crime is not a separate charge. But a sentencing judge can determine a hate crime was committed based on preponderance of evidence, said a spokesman for the Jefferson County prosecutor’s office.
Federal prosecutors have said they are considering whether to charge the killings as a hate crime.
Thomas B. Wine, commonwealth attorney for the 30th judicial district, told reporters that whether or not the shootings are designated as hate crimes would not change prosecution of the case. He said he believes it was a hate crime.
"I believe there is no explanation for what happened — he did not know either of these individuals," Wine said. "The first victim in the case, Mr. Stallard, was shot from behind. He had no idea what was getting ready to happen."
According to authorities, Bush encountered an armed citizen in the parking lot of the grocery store who challenged him, and gunfire was exchanged between Bush and the armed man, but no one was struck. Wine said the armed citizen was acting in the defense of himself and others.
A bystander reportedly said Bushat one point said "whites don’t kill whites."
Police also have said that Bush attempted to enter a predominantly black church, the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, about 10 to 15 minutes before the shooting at the grocery store but was "unsuccessful." The church's doors were locked.
Bush is being held in jail in lieu of $5 million bail. He is due to be arraigned on Friday, Wine’s office said.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky Russell M. Coleman said in a statement Wednesday that his office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI "have an open and active federal hate crimes investigation that will be thorough and prompt, aimed at collecting the evidence necessary to meet the standards required for charging under the federal hate crimes and related laws."
Kentucky’s hate crime law does not apply to murder, according to two state representatives who have pre-filed a bill to change the law to include murder and other types of criminal homicide, WAVE reported this week.