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State senators discuss bill that would add time to sentence for hate crimes in Kentucky

The families of the victims of the Jeffersontown Kroger shooting gathered with the senators to make the announcement, one day ahead of the two-year anniversary.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Saturday, October 24, marks the two-year anniversary of the deadly Kroger shooting in Jeffersontown.

A white man shot and killed two black people who were shopping.

Gregory Bush is facing murder and federal hate crime charges in the case.

Jeffersontown Police said the 52-year-old fired several shots at the Stony Brook Kroger.

Police say moments before he went into the Kroger he had tried to enter a predominantly black church in Jeffersontown.

The past two years have been tough for family members of the victims. Kellie Stallard Watson.

“We miss my father every single day,” Kellie Watson, the daughter of victim Maurice Stallard, said. “We’ve now missed holidays, we’ve missed birthdays.”

Victim Vickie Lee Jones’s sister Samuella Gathright also still grieves.

“Vickie was a kind person, she did not have a prejudiced bone in her body,” Gathright said. “Vickie so much believed in Louisville.”

State leaders are pushing for more action to be taken.

A bill request introduced by Senators Gerald Neal, Morgan McGarvey, and Julie Raque Adams would extend prison time if it is proven that a crime was committed because of the race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation of a victim.

Under the proposal, a Class A or B misdemeanor would be increased by at least half of the maximum imprisonment sentence and fine that currently exist. For a Class D felony, the term of imprisonment would be increased by one to five years. A Class C felony would be increased by five to ten years; and a Class A or B felony increased by ten to 20 years.

“We’ve had months and months of really social unrest and racial unrest and I think people want to start seeing something happen,” Sen. Raque Adams (R – Louisville) said.

The bill will not solve everything, but these families and senators believe it will be a start.

“The bottom line is this is a small piece, this is one small piece in our larger effort to end the systemic racism we see in Kentucky,” Sen. McGarvey (D – Louisville) said.

A hate crime law already exists in Kentucky, but Sen. Neal and Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine both say the current law, which went into effect in 1998, doesn’t do very much. It doesn’t even cover murder.

In addition to adding prison time to an offender’s sentence, it would take away any option for probation or parole.

Once a jury finds a person guilty of an underlying offense or the offender reaches a plea deal, then the hate crime charge will come, requiring a separate hearing.

“This is not a crime against just one person, this is a crime against an entire segment of society when we designate as a hate crime,” Wine said. “It has an influence on more than just that one person that one family.”

This bill has bipartisan support and was introduced one day ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Kroger shooting.

The legislative session resumes in January.