Teen indicted in northeast Salem shooting in landmark Marion County case

A Marion County grand jury recently indicted a teen on charges alleging he shot two people and killed one when he was 16.

Gerardo J. Trujillo-Torres, now 18, is the first teen Marion County prosecutors have argued should be tried in adult court since the passing of Senate Bill 1008 in 2019. The new law left that decision in the hands of judges.

The grand jury on Aug. 11 indicted Trujillo-Torres on charges of second-degree murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault in Marion County Circuit Court.

He is accused of shooting 24-year-old Joshua Steward and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Amaretta Rice in northeast Salem in January 2021. Steward was pronounced dead at the scene, and Rice suffered serious injuries including gunshot wounds to her head.

The charges aren’t the only ones the Trujillo-Torres has faced since he was arrested for Steward’s murder in January 2021. 

The same day as his indictment for Steward’s killing, a Marion County grand jury indicted him on charges of fourth-degree assault and first-degree burglary.

The charges allege he entered a “dwelling” at Marion County’s Juvenile Detention Facility and assaulted a 17-year-old boy on Aug. 3.

A status check hearing for both cases is scheduled for Sept. 1 in Marion County Circuit Court, according to court records.

Before his death, Steward had arranged to buy $340 of cocaine in a parking lot in front of Hoover Elementary School around 8 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2021, and Rice rode with him, according to testimony by Salem Police Department detective Jamie Vasas in a Marion County Juvenile Court Hearing May 2.

Rice at the hearing recalled Steward messaging his contact on Snapchat before a man wearing a mask and hoodie exited the car in front of them and walked up to their passenger side window. “Quick exchange?,” he asked. Stewart responded with the same. 

Rice said she then saw the barrel of a revolver a foot-and-a-half in front of her face before hearing three shots. 

Steward was found dead in the driver’s seat after crashing into a tree near Hoover Park. Salem police after investigating Steward’s death said he had been shot at the park, causing him to crash his car nearby.

Marion County prosecutors argued in juvenile hearings that Trujillo-Torres had adult-like sophistication which allowed him to understand the nature of his actions. Meanwhile, his attorneys argued he was less sophisticated than his peers, had the capacity to change and would become more likely to reoffend if transferred to the prison system. 

The passing of SB 1008 gave judges discretion on whether to charge teens 15 and older as adults for violent crimes. Previously, those charged with violent crimes were automatically treated as adults —  being prosecuted in adult courts and receiving the same sentences as their older peers. Teens convicted of violent crimes would go to an Oregon Youth Authority facility in lieu of state prison, but if they didn’t finish out their sentence before turning 25, they completed it in the adult prison system.

The new law allowed for a “second look” hearing before someone convicted ages out of the youth system and into the state Department of Corrections, allowing them to argue they have been reformed and shouldn’t serve prison time. It also blocked the state from being able to sentence a minor to life without parole.

On June 6, Marion County Circuit Judge Lindsay Partridge told Salem Reporter that the state had “proved the necessary elements” to have Trujillo-Torres be prosecuted in circuit court as an adult. 

His case is the second in the state where prosecutors have prevailed in getting a teenage defendant’s case moved to circuit court since the new law passed, according to Marion County Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy.

In February 2021, three other men were indicted by a Marion County grand jury on charges related to Steward’s death. Frederic Ferguson, 23 of Salem, died while in custody of the Marion County Jail in July awaiting trial.

Chad A. Pomelow, 21, of Salem, pleaded guilty on Sept. 20, 2021, to conspiring to murder Stewart.

Rayshawn D. Strickland, 24, of Eugene, has a trial scheduled to begin in January 2023.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.