FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky State Senators are working to plug a hole in Kentucky law concerning hate crimes.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are in favor of a newly proposed bill introduced by Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D) and Sen. Gerald Neal (D) which they say will hold criminals who attack an entire community more accountable.
This is not the first time legislation to strengthen hate crimes has been filed. This bill is in memory of Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard, who were killed at a Jeffersontown Kroger in October 2018.
"Four years ago this October, we watched as a man tried to break his way into a predominantly African-American church. He was unsuccessful. And then he went to a Kroger and killed two people simply because of the color of their skin," said Sen. McGarvey.
The gunman, Gregory Bush, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and firearm charges.
The US Department of Justice says the murder was racially motivated. Both victims were Black. After shooting Jones and Stallard, Bush told a white man who had a gun, "Don't shoot me [and] I won't shoot you. Whites don't shoot whites."
Bush was convicted of committing a federal hate crime. But the same level of charge could not be applied in Kentucky.
"We didn't have the means to hold him accountable in Kentucky because we didn't have this law on our books," said McGarvey.
"It's horrible that here in our own state, in our own home, we were not able to hold him accountable and get the justice that we needed for the hate crime that was committed," said Kellie Watson, Stallard's daughter.
McGarvey and Neal say under this proposed bill if a person is convicted of a crime that is proven to be intentionally committed based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. prison time would be added to the sentence. The person convicted would also not be eligible for early release.
The senators say this is a crime that not only impacts victims and their families, but also the entire community, and that's why they say it is crucial to passing this legislation.
"Kentucky is our home, it's our place, we have our responsibility to do what we must do and are obligated to do in our home," said Sen. Neal.
"We know we need to deter the perpetrators from committing these crimes, and if it stops one person then it's worth every effort," said Sara Wagner, president, and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Louisville.
McGarvey points out that this bill has bipartisan support. He says Republican Senator Julie Raque Adams co-sponsored a similar bill last year and supports this legislation.