Crime

Judge denies bond requests in the killing of UK student Jonathan Krueger

Student journalist Jonathan Krueger, left, was shooting photos at the University of Kentucky game in March 2015 when Andrew Harrison landed in a row of photographers.
Student journalist Jonathan Krueger, left, was shooting photos at the University of Kentucky game in March 2015 when Andrew Harrison landed in a row of photographers. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone at a hearing Friday denied a request to set bond for two men charged in the shooting death of University of Kentucky student Jonathan Krueger in April.

Scorsone also refused to reduce the $1 million bond for a third man charged in the death, Roman Gonzalez, 18.

At the hearing, Lexington police Detective Reid Bowles said the three men — Justin Delone Smith, 19; Efrain Diaz, 21; and Gonzalez — are known to be members of the Ambrose gang.

Additionally, Bowles testified that a witness told police the three had talked about wanting to commit robberies and had tried to rob two others before crossing paths with Krueger and another student, Aaron Gillette.

The witness told police she heard Smith tell Gonzalez he wasn’t “hard enough” to be in the gang, Bowles said.

The men and two juvenile girls had been traveling in a maroon-colored van, which first followed a female UK student from a Kroger to her apartment near campus. Gonzalez jumped out to rob the woman, the witness told police, but he wasn’t quick enough to make contact.

Gonzalez also later tried to carjack a Mustang at a stoplight near the university, the witness told police, but the light changed before he was able to do so. Diaz and others told police they had been drinking that night, which police confirmed with surveillance footage showing them buying alcohol.

Krueger and Gillette, who had been out drinking and getting dinner, flagged the van down around 2 a.m., waving their arms when they noticed it was going the wrong direction on Maxwell Street, a one-way street, near Transylvania Park, Bowles said.

The van pulled into a driveway and turned toward the students, then two of the men popped out of both sides of the van armed with handguns, Bowles said.

Gillette told police he gave his assailant his watch and cash he had on him, and Krueger did the same.

Police later found the watch in Smith’s bedroom in the basement of his mother’s house. Forensic testing revealed most of the DNA on the watch was Gillette’s, Bowles testified.

Gillette told police the robbers weren’t happy with what he and Krueger provided, which caused the students to fear for their lives.

Gillette said he then overpowered his assailant, forcing up the man’s gun hand. The robber fired a shot into the air as Gillette shoved him into the minivan, Bowles said.

Gillette ran to get help and called police as Krueger was shot and killed.

The trio’s defense argued that there isn’t enough physical evidence to determine who fired the shot that killed Krueger.

Attorneys for the three also questioned Bowles about a ballistics report that compared slugs found in Krueger’s autopsy to firearms seized by police. The forensics lab found slugs “most consistent” with 9mm bullets, but none of the weapons police took from Smith and Diaz fire 9mm rounds, the defense pointed out.

In response, Assistant Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrea Williams told the judge the three were dangerous to the community and had cut off ankle monitors in the past.

Gonzalez, she argued, had admitted to police that he had limited contact with his family. Smith was unemployed and admitted to spending his days patrolling territory for the gang, she said. And before Diaz was arrested in the murder case, he had been wanted on a charge of failure to appear in court.

In his ruling, Scorsone found the commonwealth’s argument was strong enough to not change the trio’s bond status.

Williams told the court the death penalty will be an option for Smith and Diaz. Because Gonzalez was 17 at the time of the shooting, he would not be eligible for the death penalty.

The three remain lodged in the Fayette County jail. They will be back in court in March.

Michael McKay: 859-231-1324, @hlpublicsafety

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