UPDATE: Men sentenced for 7-year-old murder of U.K. student
The three men were sentenced to a combined 89 consecutive years for killing Jonathan Krueger
UPDATE APRIL 28, 2022
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The three men involved in the 2015 robbery and shooting death of a University of Kentucky student were sentenced Thursday to a combined 89 years in prison. There was understandable emotion inside the courtroom, including from the family of victim Jonathan Krueger, the beloved photo editor at the student newspaper.
“It’s tragic that it took 7 years for this to happen. I’m grateful that these defendants pled guilty, its good, they should’ve, wish it would’ve happened a long time ago,” says Lou Anna Red Corn, Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney. “This family has been through a nightmare that is going to continue.”
It’s a gut-wrenching but relieving close seven years in the making for the family of Jonathan Krueger. The sentences won’t bring him back, but there is closure and some comfort in knowing the young men responsible for his death are going to prison for a very long time.
“After 7 years, it was like, oh my gosh, all of a sudden all this waiting and it’s over,” says Mary Krueger, Jonathan’s mom.
Before the sentencing, Jonathan’s mom was able to look the three men who killed her son in the eyes and share stories from his life. Krueger was shot and killed during a robbery police say went bad near U.K.’s campus. It was just 5 days after his 22nd birthday. His mother recounting the awful moment police told her, her son had been murdered.
“There are no words to describe that moment, nor the ear-piercing primordial cries of my husband, Jonathan’s father, that filled the house within a split second of hearing the words no parent ever wants to hear,” says Mary.
The Krueger family lawyer says the case was originally filed for the death penalty, but because the defendants were between 18 and 20 years old the judge ruled they weren’t eligible for death. The family appealed the ruling to the Kentucky Supreme Court. The wheels of justice can turn slowly, but this case took an especially long time because of appeals and the pandemic. The Krueger family’s attorney says the family can now have some peace knowing the men responsible for Krueger’s death are facing the consequences.
“This is a parent’s worst nightmare. When your children are doing nothing, or as adults, doing nothing wrong and this kind of violence comes down upon them,” says Red Corn. “So, a consequence is a very good thing.”
Roman Gonzalez was given 20 years for murder, 10 years for robbery in the first degree and 5 years for robbery in the second degree for a total of 35 consecutive years. Justin Smith, 34 consecutive years with 10 years for manslaughter in the second degree, 18 years for robbery first, 5 years for robbery second and one year for fleeing and evading police. Efrain Diaz Jr. was sentenced 15 years for robbery first and 5 years robbery second, a total of 20 consecutive years.
The family says it’s hard to know if justice was really served because nothing can bring Jonathan back, but feel it’s fair all three men received the maximum penalty.
“It doesn’t change up anything in the long run, but I feel like there’s some responsibility and accountability and I hadn’t really felt that up until today,” says Mary.
The defendants’ lawyers were not around for comment after the sentencing.
UPDATE MARCH 31, 2022
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The men accused of killing a University of Kentucky student during a robbery in Lexington in 2015 pleaded guilty Thursday morning.
According to court records, Roman Gonzalez pleaded guilty to murder and robbery, Justin Smith pleaded guilty to manslaughter, robbery and evading police, and Efrain Diaz Jr. pleaded guilty to robbery.
Police say the three tried to rob Jonathan Krueger and a friend as they walked near UK’s campus. Krueger was the photo editor at the school’s independent school newspaper the Kentucky Kernel.
According to police, the robbery went bad, Krueger was shot multiple times and died. His friend managed to escape.
Court records show sentencing is scheduled for late April.
ORIGINAL STORY (3/11/2019)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)- A trial date is now set for the three men accused of involvement in the murder of Jonathan Krueger in Lexington.
Krueger is the UK junior who worked as a photo editor of the Kentucky Kernel Newspaper.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the judge has set a trial date for November 12th for Roman Gonzalez Junior, Efran Diaz, and Justin Smith.
Krueger and another man were robbed on East Maxwell Street in April 2015.
While the other man escaped, Krueger was shot and killed.