As three young men sat in a Fayette County courtroom Thursday to learn their sentences for robbing and killing a University of Kentucky student seven years ago, the victim’s loved ones were brought to tears by testimony from his mother.
Jonathan Krueger was a UK student who died in April 2015 when he was shot by assailants who were trying to rob him while he walked home, according to court records. The three responsible for his death pleaded guilty earlier this year and were given prison sentences Thursday ranging from 20 to 35 years.
Mary Krueger, Jonathan Krueger’s mother, gave testimony in court Thursday and said she’d been waiting seven years for this day.
The memories of police telling Mary Krueger her son had died were painfully vivid, she said, and it’s something she wishes on no other parent.
“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,” she said.
His mother talked about her son’s final visit back home to Toledo, Ohio, to celebrate his 22nd birthday the week before he died. She said the memories from that visit are as vivid today as they were from over seven years ago.
“He had the biggest and most generous heart to match his smile,” Krueger said. “It is n’t possible for me to wrap my head around the idea that someone could crush his heart from him.”
She talked about her son’s love for the holidays and sports photography. She said his infectious Christmas spirit was one of her favorite things about the holiday, which is what made the following Christmas after his death so challenging.
Mary said her son would always ensure everyone woke up before the crack of dawn to open presents, and he was always the one who passed out gifts from under the tree.
“None of us could bring ourselves to take on Jonathan’s job,” Krueger said. “We stood there in tears hoping, waiting and wishing for a real Christmas miracle, mainly, Jonathan under the tree calling out the names, shaking the packages, hinting as to what they might contain and otherwise spreading his Christmas cheer from him.”
Weeks before Jonathan Krueger’s death, he attended the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four as a photographer with the Kentucky Kernel, UK’s student-run newspaper. UK was eliminated in the Final Four, but Krueger and his friends decided to stay for the championship game for the experience, as opposed to going back early for classes.
“Jonathan was emphatic that he belonged there because he may ‘never have another chance,’” Mary Krueger said. “True words were never spoken.”
After the sentencing, she said the hearing and the days leading up to it were overwhelming.
“I feel like how this ended today was fair, and yes it brings this to close,” she said. “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 ’til today.”
Aaron Gillette, the surviving victim of the robbery who was walking home with Jonathan Krueger but managed to successfully escape the incident, said in court Thursday that he considered himself “lucky” to spend Krueger’s final moments with him. He also said he’d suffered a traumatic experience which he’d never wish on anyone.
The experience has caused him lasting distress.
“I’m usually triggered by noises like noise-popping, children with toy guns that appear realistic and people dying, all because a certain group of individuals made a decision to drive around with loaded guns and saw two people on the side of the road and robbed them at gunpoint,” Gillette said.
This story was originally published April 28, 2022 1:26 PM.