Racial tensions rise in Moab after killing of Hispanic man
Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
MOAB — Two 16-year-old boys charged with murdering Gregorio Campos and one of the teen's mothers spent just five minutes standing before a judge Tuesday.
Once the judge set preliminary hearings for the trio and they were led back to jail, more than half the people sitting in the packed courtroom gallery left — just one indicator of how closely people in Moab are watching a case that has led to fears among members of the area's Latino community and their supporters.
Those fears were fomented by a statement attributed to one of the teens — Charles Anthony Nelson — after Campos' death and by the May 1 discovery of graffiti that contained threats and racial slurs toward the Latino community.
"We're still grieving over the loss of our brother," Rocio Salazar said through a translator Tuesday, "and they're posting this kind of graffiti."
Grand County sheriff's investigators pulled Campos' body from the Colorado River in early April, after multiple witnesses led them to Nelson and Brody Blu Kruckenberg, who are both 16 years old, as the individuals responsible for killing him.
A witness told detectives Nelson had talked about killing someone and said "the person was an illegal, so no one will miss him," according to a Grand County Jail report.
"My heart was broken; everything fell down," Salazar said as she recalled learning about the circumstances surrounding her brother's death.
The report detailed how Kruckenberg invited Nelson over to the trailer home he shared with his mother, Corina Dawn Yardley, on March 25 and encouraged him to shoot Campos, who was asleep.
"(Nelson) said it was not his deal, but was talked into doing it by his friend," detectives wrote.
They say Nelson told them he pointed a gun through a crack in the bedroom door and fired a shot that struck Campos in the bottom of the jaw. "The victim started to regurgitate and (Nelson) shot him two more times," the report states.
The second and third shots also struck Campos in the head, according to an autopsy.
Yardley's truck was used to drive her boyfriend's body to the banks of the Colorado River, where it was tied to a metal bumper and thrown into the water, police records state. Investigators said the teens later led authorities to the site.
Forensic tests conducted in Yardley's bedroom showed evidence of blood in a "large area of the carpet and wall," according to police. Investigators said they also determined that the bed in Yardley's bedroom had been replaced five days after the shooting.
Yardley, 44, was subsequently charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, for allegedly trying to cover up her boyfriend's death. Her son and Nelson each face charges of murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. Both are charged as adults.
Authorities still wouldn't discuss a possible motive for the killing on Tuesday or say whether anyone else might face charges in the case.
But the racially-charged graffiti spray painted on the fence near the mobile home where Yardley and Kruckenberg lived — and where investigators say Campos was killed — included the words "MM/cartel leave town or die" — an apparent reference to the Mexican Mafia.
Prosecutors also succeeded in having search warrant documents in the case sealed. They argued, in part, that making the documents public might jeopardize the safety of witnesses who gave detectives information about "drug trafficking with connections to violent groups" while they were investigating the homicide.
Campos' family says he worked in construction and food service in Moab, sending money home to his wife and three children in Mexico. They deny that he was ever involved in dealing drugs.
"Now that he is gone, they are saying that because he cannot defend himself," Campos' nephew Jesus Herrera said. "Why didn't they say that when he was alive?"
Moab Police Chief Mike Navarre and Grand County Sheriff Steven White have both met extensively with members of the Latino community to discuss their concerns. Both men said they want to know about any credible threat to the safety of the people they serve.
"A lot of it's just rumor mill," White said, "but we want to make sure we stay ahead of it because we want to make sure everybody's safe and everybody feels safe."
All three defendants remain in the Grand County Jail. They are due back in court Sept. 25 for their preliminary hearings.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: GeoffLiesik
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