Judge denies bond for 2 charged in Kernel editor’s shooting death

Lexington Police robbery and homicide detective Reid Bowles flips through his notes during a bond hearing for the 3 suspects involved in the murder of former Kernel photo editor Jonathan Krueger at the Fayette County Circuit Court in Lexington, Ky. on Friday, February 5, 2016. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff.

Cheyene Miller

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A Fayette County judge denied bail to two of the three individuals charged in the shooting death of Kentucky Kernel photo editor Jonathan Krueger.

Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone denied bail to Justin Delone Smith and Efrain Diaz Jr. because they could face the death penalty for their murder charges and bail is typically denied in such instances.

Scorsone set bail for Roman Gonzalez Jr. at $1 million because Gonzalez was a minor at the time of the crime and is facing life in prison, not the death penalty.

All three suspects were charged with murder and first-degree robbery. Smith was also charged with tampering with physical evidence, and fleeing and evading police.

Defense attorneys for the three suspects argued that the prosecution had failed to provide adequate evidence linking them to the murder weapon, and Diaz’s attorney said Diaz likely did not even exit the van.

Prosecutors said Smith, Diaz and Gonzalez were “three dangerous individuals” that admitted to being involved in the robbery, and could pose a flight risk. They said if the judge set bail it should be “substantial.”

Detective Reid Bowles of the Lexington Police Department testified that all three individuals claimed to be involved with the Ambrose street gang, and were driving around Lexington intoxicated the night of Krueger’s death.

Krueger was killed at about 2 a.m. on April 17 on East Maxwell Street while walking home with friend Aaron Gillette.  Police said a red or maroon van with a sliding door pulled up to them, and two individuals exited the vehicle with handguns.

The two assailants held Krueger and Gillette at gunpoint, and demanded their money and valuables. Bowles said Krueger and Gillette complied. After handing over their money and watches, police said the armed individuals demanded more, at which point a physical struggle ensued.

Gillette told police he grabbed the closest assailant’s gun and raised it above their heads, causing several shots to be fired. Gillette then slammed the individual against the van before fleeing the scene. He said he did not see what happened to Krueger.

Police found Krueger’s body lying in the street upon arrival. He was killed by a gunshot to the chest, according to the Fayette County coroner.

Witnesses said the red or maroon van fled the scene and police later saw a van matching the description. The van sped off, but police ran the license plate, which came back to Smith’s mother.

Bowles testified that police later found a black Fossil watch in Smith’s home that was later confirmed by a DNA test to be Gillette’s.

Diaz’s attorney said Diaz was driving the vehicle, and Smith and Gonzalez were the ones who exited the car with handguns. His attorney said Diaz was heavily intoxicated and didn’t clearly remember all the events of the evening.

Bowles said the three individuals were accompanied in the van by two juvenile females. One of the females, identified by the initials J.G., said all three male suspects had handguns and spent the evening talking about committing robberies, attempting two before robbing Krueger and Gillette.

Police found 9 millimeter casings at the scene, and Bowles said he believed a 9 mm handgun used in the crime was still missing. Police found several types of 9 mm rounds and several firearms at Diaz’s trailer.

A ballistics report said there were three projectiles found at the scene consistent with a 9 mm firearm.

Police said a witness said she saw two people exit the van at the time of the shooting.

Bowles said the night before the shooting Smith and Diaz were communicating via Facebook about getting together with an individual later identified as Gonzalez. 

All three suspects are scheduled to be back in court March 25.