A former professional mixed-martial arts fighter from Springfield who claims that he shot and killed an unarmed man in an act of self-defense was arrested Thursday evening and charged with murder.
A Lane County grand jury moved to indict Gerald Roy Strebendt, 35, on the charge after prosecutors presented evidence to the panel in nonpublic proceedings. A judge subsequently issued an arrest warrant, and Springfield police took Strebendt into custody after stopping a vehicle near 32nd and Main streets shortly after 6 p.m., police Sgt. David Lewis said.
County prosecutors must now prove that Strebendt's shooting of David Crofut was a crime -- and not a legal act of self-defense, as Strebendt has claimed.
Vehicles driven by Strebendt and Crofut collided on Bob Straub Parkway in Springfield's Thurston area shortly before a face-to-face confrontation between the men that ended with Crofut's death on Jan. 29, police said.
Strebendt called 911 before the shooting, and an emergency dispatcher was still on the line when Strebendt pulled a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle from his pickup and shot Crofut, who police said was unarmed at the time.
Efforts by The Register-Guard to reach members of Crofut's family were unsuccessful Thursday night.
Strebendt's attorney, Mike Arnold of Eugene, said Crofut threatened Strebendt's life before the shooting.
"It remains our position that when an angry and hostile stranger acting aggressively to you tells you he has a weapon and threatens to kill you, you are entitled to take him at his word. No armchair quarterbacking by the government changes that fact," Arnold said Thursday night.
"If a police officer had been put in the same position as Gerald, the aggressor would have been dead minutes earlier and the shooting would have been found justified within days," he said.
Under Oregon law, members of the public are not justified in using deadly force unless they reasonably believe another person may harm them or someone else by using deadly force, is committing or attempting to commit a felony involving the use or threatened imminent use of physical force against a person, or is committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling.
The semiautomatic rifle used by Strebendt is a legal weapon. Oregon has no law against carrying loaded rifles in a vehicle.
Strebendt is being held in the Lane County Jail. He is expected to be arraigned today in Lane County Circuit Court.
Police have not said what factors contributed to the crash involving Strebendt's pickup and Crofut's sport utility vehicle prior to the shooting.
Strebendt's attorney said his client was running errands when the collision occurred. Police said Crofut, 53, had been at a Springfield tavern on the night of the incident, but it's unclear if he was intoxicated at the time. Strebendt is not suspected of having used drugs or alcohol before the encounter with Crofut.
State court records list no prior criminal record for Strebendt.
A recent history of bad driving, however, has cost Strebendt a total of $580 in fines since July 2012. Between then and January of this year, Strebendt was convicted twice in Lane County of speeding violations, and once of following another vehicle too closely.
Strebendt is also named as one of two defendants in a local man's lawsuit filed last July. The $47,000 suit filed by Anthony Epping alleges that Strebendt and another man, Byron Wetzel, robbed him of his watch at gunpoint as part of a business-related dispute. Strebendt has denied the allegation, according to court records.
Wetzel, meanwhile, has filed a countersuit against Epping that accuses him of threatening conduct and not repaying $12,000 in loans.
Wetzel claims in his lawsuit that he and Strebendt "used only so much force as was reasonably necessary to protect" Wetzel during an incident at his home.
A trial in that case is scheduled for May.
In an entirely unrelated matter that unfolded nearly a decade ago in Southern California, Strebendt served as a key prosecution witness in a murder trial involving one of his close acquaintances in the mixed-martial arts community.
Strebendt testified during the 2005 trial that his friend, Rafiel Torre, had offered him $10,000 four years earlier to kill a man whose wife had an affair with Torre.
Strebendt said he refused the offer, and that Torre later confessed to him that he had killed the victim in an act of self-defense, according to news reports of the trial.
Torre testified that he was innocent and had never offered to pay Strebendt to kill the victim. A jury found him guilty of murder, and Torre is now serving a lifetime prison sentence.
Strebendt, a former Marine Corps sniper, competed between 2001 and 2008 in Ultimate Fighting Championship and other professional events as a mixed-martial arts fighter. He opened Northwest Training Center in downtown Springfield in 2006.
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