Eugene man sentenced in 2021 Salem murder-for-hire with teen shooter

A Marion County Circuit judge on Wednesday sentenced a Eugene man to about six years in prison for recruiting and paying a 16-year-old boy in 2021 to shoot two people near a Salem elementary school. 

Rayshawn D. Strickland, 25, pleaded guilty on June 8 in Marion County Circuit Court to racketeering and two counts of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, according to his plea agreement.

He was one of four people charged with the shooting of 24-year-old Joshua Steward and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Amaretta Rice. The shooting left Steward dead at the scene and Rice with serious injuries.

Strickland’s sentence leaves one person charged with Steward’s murder whose case remains pending – the teen who prosecutors say pulled the trigger.

The double-shooting produced a landmark case in the Salem area. 

Gerardo J. Trujillo-Torres, now 18, is the first minor in Marion County to 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, rather than teens charged with violent crimes being prosecuted and sentenced as adults.

The teen is scheduled to change his earlier plea of not guilty at a hearing on July 6, court records showed.

Strickland was arrested in February 2021 and charged with Steward’s murder. But it wasn’t until two months ago that a grand jury indicted him for racketeering, a charge rarely filed by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors under the charge linked him to 13 crimes including delivery of fentanyl and cocaine, burglary, robbery and murder.

Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy told Salem Reporter he recalled fewer than five cases in the past decade in which local prosecutors charged someone with racketeering.

The charge is more often levied by the state Department of Justice. “The conduct that racketeering covers generally goes beyond one county,” Murphy said.

Strickland and 23-year-old Fred Ferguson of Salem, who died while in custody of the Marion County Jail in July awaiting trial, “ordered the execution” of Steward, their former associate, and Rice, Murphy wrote in a May 3 court filing explaining the racketeering charge.

“The murder was over a perceived drug debt and their belief that Steward had cooperated with law enforcement,” Murphy wrote. Strickland on Jan. 16, 2021, arranged a fake drug deal with Steward and told Gerardo Trujillo-Torres, then “a local 16-year-old Salem gang member,” to shoot him and Rice.

Murphy’s statement provided new details about Strickland’s involvement in the events that led up to the shooting.

Strickland by 2020 was known to police in Eugene as a local cocaine dealer. He grew up in Portland and was significantly involved with the Woodland Park Bloods, “a violent Portland street gang,” according to the court filing.

Strickland and Ferguson that year combined efforts to distribute narcotics, according to the document. “They quickly built a significant drug distribution enterprise,” recruiting Steward and others.

The statement said Strickland and Ferguson were estimated to have been making tens of thousands of dollars a week selling bricks of cocaine and shipping hundreds of pounds of marijuana to the east coast. Strickland also sold fake oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl in the Eugene area. 

The group went on trips and rented luxurious homes with their drug business’ income. Ferguson on one occasion took his associates to Texas on a “lavish spending spree” in which he bought expensive luxury watches and fake diamond-covered teeth, one set costing $60,000, according to the document. 

When Steward received a short jail sentence due to Covid for an assault the group was involved in, they believed he had cooperated with law enforcement. They also suspected his involvement in marijuana shipments that had gone missing. 

Prosecutors say Strickland in December 2020 hired three Woodland Park gang members to drive to New Jersey and kill Steward and his family, telling them they could keep any cash or drugs they found as payment. 

Steward, by that time tipped off that Strickland and Ferguson were looking for him, returned to Oregon. There, he went on to develop a relationship with Rice. 

On Jan. 16, 2021, the two arranged on Snapchat to buy $350 of cocaine from an employee of Strickland’s and Ferguson’s.

Rice and Steward were directed to Hoover Elementary School on Northeast Savage Road. 

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

Prosecutors say that as the shooter opened fire, he held his cell phone in his left hand pointed at the victims.

Strickland and Ferguson were at a house party when they ordered the hit on Steward, and Ferguson Facetimed with the shooter at the time of the killing, according to the court filing. “The partygoers could hear the shots being fired through Frederic’s cell phone. In short, (the shooter) broadcasted the shooting live via Facetime and the party cheered at Steward’s death.”

Police traced the shooter’s cell phone number to Trujillo-Torres. 

Strickland was arrested in March 2021, in Maricolpa County, Arizona.

Prosecutors as part of his plea deal dropped charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of solicitation to commit second-degree murder, possession and delivery of cocaine, and money laundering.

Marion County Circuit Judge David E. Leith sentenced him on Wednesday to five years and 10 months in state prison, with three years of post-prison supervision.

Strickland was previously convicted of unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm in 2016, and possessing a firearm as a felon in 2018.


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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.