In the week before Gregorio Salazar Campos’ body was found in the Colorado River, 16-year-old Charles "Tony" Nelson had been bragging to several people in the Moab community.
He had killed a man, he told them.
One or two of those people came forward to police, Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said Tuesday, and it quickly became clear to investigators that Nelson and 16-year-old Brody Blu Kruckenberg were involved in Campos’ March 25 death.
As a result, the two teens, both now 17, were charged as adults in 7th District Court with one count each of first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstruction of justice. A probable cause statement filed with the court indicated Nelson was the shooter.
But Nelson’s story — that he shot Campos, who was the boyfriend of Kruckenberg’s mother, three times while he slept on March 25 — didn’t add up to investigators. Fitzgerald said that after investigators looked into Nelson’s phone records and a time line of events, it was evident that Nelson had a very small window of time to participate in the shooting at Kruckenberg’s home.
"It really threw investigators for a loop," Fitzgerald said. "They were really looking for Tony to be the shooter."
In the end, Kruckenberg confessed he shot Campos. Nelson had come to Kruckenberg’s home after the shooting and helped him hide evidence, Fitzgerald said, but he was not the murderer that he bragged to be.
On Monday, 7th District Judge Lyle Anderson dismissed the charges in adult court and the youths pleaded guilty to lesser charges in juvenile court.
Kruckenberg pleaded guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice, both second-degree felonies, and was sentenced to juvenile detention until he turns 21. Nelson pleaded guilty to second-degree felony obstruction of justice, and is awaiting sentencing pending further evaluation, according to court documents.
A story about the plea resolutions in Tuesday’s Tribune relied on the initial probable cause statement of facts, and erroneously identified Nelson, rather than Kruckenberg, as the shooter.
Fitzgerald said Tuesday that Kruckenberg was "a pawn" of sorts in Campos’ murder, influenced by three or four adults who had ill will for Campos and wanted him dead. Campos allegedly sold drugs in the Moab area, Fitzgerald said, and was competition to this group of adults. It was also reported to police that Campos had sold the group bad cocaine that made them sick, prompting them to seek revenge against him, according to the prosecutor.
Campos also gave Kruckenberg and Nelson drugs, according to Fitzgerald, and may have been grooming Kruckenberg to be a drug dealer.
Fitzgerald said the group of adults had been pressuring Kruckenberg to "do something" about his mother’s boyfriend, and when he finally pulled the trigger, that same group of adults advised the teen on how to dispose the body and helped him dump Campos into the Colorado River.
Campos’ body was discovered in the river just north of Moab on April 7.
Criminal charges will likely be filed against the group of adults, Fitzgerald said, but he would not identify those involved on Tuesday.
Kruckenberg’s mother, Corina Dawn Yardley, also was charged in connection to Campos’ death. She pleaded guilty in July to two counts of class A misdemeanor obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to 90 days in the Grand County Jail.
Fitzgerald said several factors, including Kruckenberg’s age and a number of head injuries Kruckenberg received as a child, which affected his maturity level and social skills, prompted prosecutors to move the case back to juvenile court from adult court. Juvenile detention will give Kruckenberg an opportunity to be rehabilitated, Fitzgerald said.
"It gives a better chance that when Brody is released, he’ll [be] a productive citizen," Fitzgerald said.
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