A white man accused of fatally shooting two black people at a Kentucky grocery store, in killings that are being investigated as a hate crime, pleaded not guilty in court Friday as relatives of the victims looked on.
Gregory Bush, 51, pleaded not guilty at a court appearance, NBC affiliate WAVE reported. He was indicted by a county grand jury this week on two counts of murder, one count of criminal attempted murder and two counts of wanton endangerment.
Bush allegedly opened fire in a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, just east of Louisville, on Oct. 24, fatally shooting Maurice Stallard, 69, from behind and then fatally shooting Vickie Lee Jones, 67, in the parking lot. Several police officers surrounded Bush in the courtroom Friday, and he did not speak.
Bush’s public defender, Angela Elleman, expressed condolences to the victims' families but said Bush is entitled to due process.
"It's particularly in times of loss and tragedy that our constitution and our laws are particularly tested," attorney Angela Elleman said. "Mr. Bush of course has the right to due process and a fair trial that we all are honored to have."
The families of Stallard and Jones declined to speak to reporters after the brief hearing, according to the Associated Press. Bush is being held in lieu of $5 million bail.
According to a bystander, at one point after the shooting Bush said "whites don’t kill whites." Before the shooting, Bush was also seen on surveillance video trying to enter a historically black church, but was unsuccessful, police have said.
Bush was challenged in the parking lot after the shooting by another armed man who had a concealed carry pistol permit and the two men exchanged gunfire, but no one was hit, officials have said.
Thomas B. Wine, commonwealth attorney for the 30th judicial district, told reporters on Wednesday that it was too early to tell whether his office will seek the death penalty in the case.
Wine said at the time that, in Kentucky, the hate crimes statute is not a separate charge and only comes up at sentencing, when a judge can determine a hate crime was committed based on preponderance of evidence — but lawmakers have said that it does not apply in murder cases.
A federal prosecutor said on Wednesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky, the Justice Department's civil rights division, and the FBI have an open and active federal hate crimes investigation into the killings.
Wine said Wednesday that he believes the killings were a hate crime, and that "I believe there is no explanation for what happened — he did not know either of these individuals" who were killed.
The person who exchanged gunfire with Bush, Dominiic Rozier, said he and Bush shot at each other from around a car’s length away.
Rozier told WAVE that "I was doing it to protect me and my wife," and that even though no one was hit by their gunfire he was sorry that anyone else may have been put in harm's way.
His wife, Kiera Dozier, told the station that she saw Jones on the phone saying that people were shooting and she needed to get home before Bush shot her in the parking lot.
"I heard her say she's trying to get home. She said 'these people are shooting, they’re crazy, I just want to get home; Lord let me get home,'" Kiera Dozier said. "He [Bush] looked at her, and he kind of grinned and he just shot her."
Kiera Dozier said right after that Dominiic Dozier had drawn his gun and "my husband said, 'don't do this. ... and before he could even say it the guy had the gun pointed at me, and there was another lady who was not too far from me.”
A funeral was held for Stallard on Tuesday, and Jones will be laid to rest on Saturday, WAVE reported.