Prosecutors believe a Moab teenager who confessed to killing his mother’s boyfriend was pressured into the murder by rival drug dealers of the victim.
Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said that discovery by investigators played a key role in his decision to reach a plea deal with Brody Blu Kruckenberg, 17, which gets him a reduced charge and a sentence of four years in juvenile detention.
Grand County prosecutors moved Kruckenberg’s case out of adult court Monday, July 22 and reduced the count to manslaughter, rather than murder, after the teen confessed to shooting Gregorio Salazar Campos three times in the head on March 25.
Prosecutors have also reduced charges for Kruckenberg’s friend, Charles Anthony Nelson, 17, who they initially thought pulled the trigger. He agreed to the charge of obstruction of justice and his case was also moved to juvenile court.
Meanwhile, investigators expect to file charges against the three to four adults for their role in influencing Kruckenberg, Fitzgerald said.
In Kruckenberg, the drug dealers spotted a troubled and impressionable young man who shared their disdain for Salazar, Fitzgerald said.
The adults owed Salazar money and were upset that he was lacing the drugs he sold with chemicals that were making people sick. Kruckenberg was angry he had to live in close quarters with a man who sold drugs and had a spouse and kids in Mexico that he still sent money home to, Fitzgerald said.
“They basically used this 16-year-old who had a lot of problems to do their dirty work,” Fitzgerald said.
He said the men drilled into Kruckenberg’s head how bad a man Salazar was and told him he was beating his mother, a claim Kruckenberg’s mother later denied. After the murder, the men arrived at the trailer and took over, Fitzgerald said, helping him find a spot to dump the body.
In agreeing to the reduced charges, prosecutors also took into consideration Kruckenberg’s youth — he was 16 at the time of the shooting — and his immaturity and stunted mental growth, Fitzgerald said.
Kruckenberg suffered serious head injuries while skiing several years ago that left him in a coma, Fitzgerald said. Kruckenberg’s attorney also said his client had a head tumor as a young boy.
“If he goes into the adult system and survives there, he would have been raised in a pretty violent, terrible place and he might come out quite bad,” Fitzgerald said.
Salazar’s sister, Rocio Herrera, spoke during Monday’s hearing and said that her brother didn’t deserve to die no matter what he was involved in, Fitzgerald said. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Nelson bragging to friends he killed a man led to his and Kruckenberg’s arrests, Fitzgerald said. The working theory for investigators was that Nelson pulled the trigger at the request of Kruckenberg.
But investigators began questioning that claim when they pieced together the evidence. Eventually, both teens made full confessions about what happened, Fitzgerald said.
Nelson was still charged with obstruction of justice for helping Kruckenberg get rid of Salazar’s body. Nelson’s sentence is pending a psychological assessment by juvenile court. He’ll be back in court on Sept. 9.
Kruckenberg’s mother, Corina Dawn Yardley, 44, pleaded guilty to two counts of obstructing justice earlier this month. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Nelson’s attorney, Don Torgerson, declined to comment. Kruckenberg’s attorney, Rich Uday, said his client will have a much better chance of rehabilitation in juvenile detention.
He’ll be given a neuro-psychological evaluation as part of his assessment, Uday said.
After the murder happened, there were fears in Moab that the killing of a Mexican man may have been racially motivated. But Fitzgerald said the facts bore out that this is simply a drug crime.
“This was mainly drug community doing their bad deeds,” Fitzgerald said.