The man accused of fatally shooting two African American customers at a grocery store in Kentucky last month was charged Thursday with federal hate-crime and firearm offenses, the Justice Department said.
Gregory A. Bush, 51, was charged in a six-count indictment that carries a possible death sentence — though the Justice Department said it would determine later whether to seek that penalty. Bush had been held on murder charges in Jefferson County, Ky., and pleaded not guilty.
The indictment says Bush killed the man and the woman because of their “actual and perceived race and color.” A surveillance video shows he first came pounding at the doors of a historically black church about 15 miles east of Louisville before leaving and heading to a nearby Kroger grocery store.
There, authorities have said, Bush walked by dozens of white shoppers before shooting Maurice Stallard, a 69-year-old retiree, in the back of the head. He then walked outside and did the same to Vickie Lee Jones, a 67-year-old black woman, authorities have said. He fled after a shootout with another customer and was arrested nearby.
“The crimes alleged in this indictment are horrific,” acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker said in a statement announcing the federal charges. “We cannot and will not tolerate violence motivated by racism. We will bring the full force of the law against these and any other alleged hate crimes against fellow Americans of any race.”
A defense attorney for Bush did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The Oct. 24 shooting received comparatively little public attention, as it was soon overshadowed by the discovery of possible bombs that were mailed to opponents of President Trump and another shooting that left 11 people dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The three incidents sparked renewed calls for the federal government to update its laws to put the kind of violence targeting minorities, religious groups and the public in the same category as terrorists inspired by overseas groups.
In 2017, hate crimes reached their highest mark since 2012 — with the FBI recording 7,175 criminal incidents motivated by bias against race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender. That was up from 6,121 in 2016, though the FBI noted that many more law enforcement agencies contributed information.
Last month, the Justice Department launched a new hate-crimes website to provide a centralized portal for the department’s hate-crimes resources for law enforcement, victims, advocacy groups and others. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein has touted the department’s aggressive posture in bringing cases against individual offenders, noting that since January 2017 the department has prosecuted more than 50 defendants for hate crimes.
He also has called attention to disparate reporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement agencies.