LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The man accused of murdering a Richmond couple is a known jazz musician in the Lexington area.
Thomas Birl is a pianist who goes by the stage name Heitsi-Eibib Ogun or Chris.
He appeared in court on Monday pleading not guilty over zoom to charges of killing Chris and Gracie Hager, an arson charge, and charges for tampering with evidence and criminal mischief.
Those who know him by his music, like bandmate Karl Chugg are deeply puzzled by what police say unfolded. Chugg says he knew him only professionally, as an amazing guy.
"More than anything surprised. I never saw him as someone who was really violent. In general, musicians tend to be opinionated, that's kind of part of our line of work, that goes with it. So he definitely had some of that, but never anything that said oh you know you should watch out, you should be careful," said Chugg.
Birl's last known performance was with Chugg and another trio member at Creaux, January 2020. Although Chugg said they hadn't talked in a while.
"We never really rehearsed in his place or anything, but it was like we grab a meal, we'll talk a little bit and it's purely like I said business," said Chugg.
Birl has played in at least a hundred shows in a career that spans thirty years.
Just since 2016, Birl played at Creaux, the Historic Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, Willis Music, Christie's, and the Berea Farmer's market
"It's not a huge community. So we all kind of know each other so you know names pop up, you hear names from a couple places. It's usually a good idea just to get together and play and kind of feel it out," said Chugg about how the two met.
Birl posted several videos of his music on Facebook, YouTube, and Soundcloud.
Chugg, like many others, is trying to find out how the musician went from playing beautiful melodies, to being accused of taking two lives.
"COVID has been a real struggle for a lot of people. So I can imagine, at the end of the day, it had something to do with it, but I don't know," said Chugg.
The victims, Chris and Gracie Hager, were well-known in Richmond and involved in the community. Chris Hager was 54 and his wife, Gracie, was 52.