The three men responsible for killing University of Kentucky student Jonathan Krueger during a violent robbery in April 2015 received their prison sentences in an emotional Fayette County courtroom Thursday.
Roman Gonzalez, 24, Justin Delone Smith, 25, and Efrain Diaz, Jr., 27, all accepted guilty pleas for their involvement in the crime in early April. On Thursday a Fayette Circuit Court judge gave each of them decades-long prison sentences.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty to murder and two counts of robbery. Judge Jeffrey Taylor Gonzalez to a total of 35 years in prison after accepting sentencing recommendations made by prosecutors and choosing to run the sentences for each of Gonzalez’s convictions consecutively.
Smith pleaded guilty to manslaughter, two counts of robbery and evading police. Taylor also accepted the recommendations made by prosecutors for Smith’s sentencing and ordered the sentences to run consecutively, setting his prison time to a total of 34 years.
Diaz pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery. Taylor accepted prosecutors’ recommendations for Diaz and ordered the sentences to be served consecutively, putting Diaz in prison for a total of 20 years.
Nearly 7 years after fatal shooting, suspects admit guilt in UK student’s death
Taylor did credit the three men for their time served in jail while they awaited the resolution of their court cases, meaning that time will be taken off of their prison sentences.
The lawyers for all three defendants asked for the sentences to be served concurrently, meaning the sentence for each individual conviction would be served at the same time and the total prison time would be reduced. Multiple letters from the defendants’ families were sent to Taylor asking for concurrent sentences.
Smith’s mother even spoke in court, mentioning how a rough upbringing negatively altered the course of her son’s life. She maintained that he is a good person.
Diaz and Smith both personally apologized to Krueger’s family, including his mother.
“I know that if my mother were going through the same thing, she would be devastated,” Diaz said.
Diaz was 20 years old when the shooting happened. Gonzalez was 17 and Smith was 18.
Victim’s mom: ‘He had the biggest and most generous heart.’
After final statements from the defendants and their lawyers, some people who knew Krueger spoke in court, including Mary Krueger, Jonathan’s mother, Elizabeth Krueger, his sister, and the companion who was with him the night he died, Aaron Gillette.
Mary Krueger delivered a 20-minute speech, with the podium facing the direction of the defendants and the gallery, that caused her and others in the courtroom to cry.
She said she had been waiting seven years for Thursday’s sentencing. She and all the other supporters in the courtroom felt it was long overdue.
“He had the biggest and most generous heart to match his smile,” Mary Krueger said. “It is not possible for me to wrap my head around the idea that someone could crush his heart.”
Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said she also felt justice was served but that it was overdue. She said legal matters involving the appeal of the death penalty set the case back a few years.
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“This family has been through a nightmare that is going to continue for them,” Red Corn said. “I’m glad the judge ran the sentences consecutively, that he understood the nature of what happened to those young men when they were walking home that day.”
Like Krueger’s mother, Red Corn said this situation is every parent’s worst nightmare and something no one should experience. She hoped the sentencing could finally give the family some peace after seven years of waiting.
“A consequence is a very good thing, and the consequence will bring some peace this family,” Red Corn said. “It doesn’t bring Jonathan back and it doesn’t bring them joy.”
Surviving victim: ‘I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone.’
Gillette first met Jonathan in 2012 when the two rushed for a fraternity at UK. Their friendship grew over time, and Gillette described Jonathan as one of his closest friends during his senior year in 2015.
“Although I consider myself lucky to spend Jon’s last night on Earth with him, I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone,” Gillette said.
Gillette said he never once felt unsafe on Maxwell Street or in Lexington, but the trauma he experienced has changed the way he sees things now. He said he’s undergone counseling and treatment to try to heal the damage and still struggles to deal with the survivor’s guilt.
Police: University of Kentucky student, friend tried to resist robbers; fatal shots blamed on juvenile