PUBLIC SAFETY

Salem teen sentenced to life in prison for 2021 murder-for hire

A Marion County Circuit Court judge has sentenced a Salem teen to life in prison for shooting two people, one fatally, near an elementary school in 2021 when he was 16.

Gerardo Trujillo-Torres, now 19, pleaded guilty on July 6 in Marion County Circuit Court to second-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, according to court documents.

He was 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 – previously, teens charged with violent crimes were prosecuted and sentenced as adults.

Trujillo-Torres is eligible to serve his sentence at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn until he is 25, when he will be transferred to the adult prison system.

The teen must serve at least 15 years before he is eligible to be released on parole. A life sentence typically requires 25 years served before parole eligibility, but the new law shortened that period for minors.

He will also be eligible for a “second look” hearing halfway through his sentence – another provision of the law – allowing him to argue he has been reformed and should be released.

Trujillo-Torres was one of four people charged with the January 2021 shooting of 24-year-old Joshua Steward and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Amaretta Rice. The shooting near Hoover Elementary School left Stewart dead at the scene and Rice with serious injuries.

Rayshawn Strickland, 25 of Eugene, and 23-year-old Fred Ferguson of Salem “ordered the execution” of Steward, their former associate, and Rice, Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy wrote in a July 5 sentencing memorandum. 

Strickland and Ferguson in fall 2020 were selling marijuana, cocaine and fentanyl-laced oxycodone pills throughout Salem and Eugene.

The shooting was “over a perceived drug debt and their belief that Steward had cooperated with law enforcement to provide evidence against them,” prosecutors said in a July 7 news release. Strickland on Jan. 16, 2021, arranged a fake drug deal with Steward and told Trujillo-Torres, then “a 16-year-old Salem gang member,” to kill him and Rice.

Trujillo-Torres did did know either victim. He shot Steward three times and shot Rice in the head.

The teen at the time was on parole from the Oregon Youth Authority for third-degree assault, criminal mischief and resisting arrest. He was referred five times to the Marion County Juvenile Department and arrested multiple times.

Trujillo-Torres was committed to the youth authority in January 2020 and paroled home after about six months at McLaren. “Five months and 30 days later he shot the victims,” according to the memorandum.

Trujillo-Trorres was initially charged with murder and attempted murder in juvenile court.

In May 2022, following a five-day hearing to determine whether Trujillo-Torres could be tried as an adult, Marion County Circuit Judge Lindsay Partridge told Salem Reporter that prosecutors had “proved the necessary elements” to have the teen be prosecuted in circuit court as an adult. 

Trujillo Torres is one of two minors in Oregon whose cases were transferred to adult court in such a manner.

That does not include cases where minors agree to have their case resolved in adult court, “usually in exchange for less-serious charges,” according to the news release. No hearing is required in such cases.

Murphy said in the July 7 news release he found it concerning that few juvenile cases had been approved for adult court since the 2019 law.

“This case highlights a serious gap in public safety: Oregon’s response to violent juvenile conduct. Our state’s current legal structure around violent juvenile behavior does not prioritize public safety and victims,” he wrote.

Ferguson died while in custody of the Marion County Jail in July 2021 before his case concluded. Strickland and 21-year-old Chad Pomelow of Salem, the associate who prosecutors say helped set up the fake drug deal, both pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder Steward. Strickland was sentenced to about six years in prison and Pomelow to about seven and a half years in prison.

Prosecutors say that if Trujillo-Torres’ case had been resolved in juvenile court, he would have been released before his 25th birthday with no supervision.

“It is concerning that in less than 15 years, this individual could be back in our community” Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said in the news release. “He clearly had his chance through the Oregon Youth Authority and was on OYA parole at the time he committed this murder. Obviously, he was not rehabilitated.”  

Rice wrote in the statement from prosecutors, “I don’t agree with the outcome of this case. If you can commit murder, you can handle the adult consequences. I’m disappointed in Oregon’s system. (Trujillo-Torres) has an opportunity for parole and a second look after killing one person and almost killing me. It’s not fair but I know the detectives and District Attorneys did everything they could and I’m grateful for all their efforts.”

RELATED COVERAGE

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

Teen indicted in northeast Salem shooting in landmark Marion County case

Boy charged with murder first in Marion County to be tried as adult since Measure 11 reform

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.