In Self Defense- The Finishing Machine- The Self Defense Case of Gerald Strebendt- The Facts
The Finishing Machine
The Self-Defense Case of Gerald Strebendt
Part 1: The Facts of the Case
If you are a fan of mixed martial arts, you might recognize the name Gerald Strebendt. The former Marine sniper had a 9-7 record and fought in UFC 44. His aggressive fighting style earned him the nickname “The Finishing Machine.” While that name didn’t hurt Strebendt’s reputation in the ring, it inflamed the suspicions of law enforcement when they were called to investigate the shooting of an unarmed man on a dark highway the night of January 29, 2014.
Gerald Strebendt drove his GMC Denali along the Bob Straub Parkway on the rural outskirts of Springfield, Oregon, when, he claims, the car in front stopped suddenly, forcing him to pass on the right shoulder. Moments later, the vehicle driven by a man named David Crofut crashed into the rear of Strebendt’s truck. Forensic evidence would later reveal that Crofut was accelerating at the time of impact. He never touched his breaks.
Crofut was also drunk. He had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit.
Strebendt killed the engine and prepared to exit his vehicle when, he claims, he heard Crofut yelling and making threats. When the vehicle failed to restart, he reached into the backseat and retrieved a loaded .223 caliber rifle from a small assortment of firearms he had recently taken to the range. Then he exited the vehicle and dialed 911 on his cell phone.
The Frantic 911 Call
“I’ve got my firearm out,” he tells the emergency operator. “He hit me on purpose with his vehicle, crashed into my brand-new truck, and now he’s over by my truck, and I’m backing away from him.”
When the operator instructs Strebendt to get back in his vehicle and lock the door, he explains that the other man is already at his vehicle. “Get back from me,” he shouts. “Ma’am, I can’t see his hands. He’s dark.” As the dispatcher tries to calm him down, the call drops. When the call reconnects, Strebendt pleads, “Send an ambulance right now.”
During the gap in the recording, Gerald Strebendt fired a single shot that struck David Crofut in the head, killing him instantly.
During the next several minutes, Strebendt explains to the operator that he shot the man, that he called to him several times to stop approaching, and that he couldn’t see his hands. He tells the operator that Crofut got close enough to touch his rifle, a claim later confirmed forensic investigators found Crofut’s DNA on the firearm. Otherwise, Crofut was unarmed.
The “Parade of Horribles”
When police arrived, Strebendt surrendered with his hands up. After taking Strebent into custody, they released him, but continued an investigation. What they found in Strebendt’s past was a litany of bad acts and allegations that convinced a grand jury to indict him for murder. Strebendt’s attorney Mike Arnold called these problems from the past a “parade of horribles,” and they dogged the legal defense throughout the case.
Here are just a few:
Strebendt had racked up $580 in traffic tickets in less than two years — two for speeding and one for following too closely. Strebent’s ex-wife told investigators her husband was involved in road rage incidents “all the time.” She said he would “break check” other drivers and once tried to run another driver off the road.
Six days before the shooting, Strebendt posted this on Facebook: “If you like to drive slow guess what? You should be in the slow lane. If you want to drive greater than the speed limit guess what? You should be in my lane. If you get this confused somehow guess what? I will strike hard and fast like a cobra should the opportunity present itself.”
In July of the previous year, Strebendt was named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging that he and another man robbed the plaintiff at gunpoint, taking his watch as part of some business dispute.
Then there was a 2005 California murder trial where Strebendt testified that his friend Rafiel Torre, the defendant in the case, had asked him to kill his wife’s lover for $10,000. Strebendt said he refused the offer.
A Compromised Conviction
The judge in Strebendt’s case refused to grant bond, so while attorney Mike Arnold labored over the legal defense, Gerald Strebendt languished in jail. The case progressed slowly as Arnold fought to convince the judge to keep the prior bad-acts from being presented to a jury. Months passed, however, without a ruling from a judge, and Arnold
knew from conducting a mock trial that jurors would have hard time looking past the “parade of horribles.”
In the end, Arnold negotiated a plea deal for a lesser charge of negligent homicide. The sentence would be four years and 10 months in prison, with credit for the 15 months his client had already spent in jail. Strebendt told the a reporter for the Register-Guard, “It’s basic math. It’s insurance that I don’t have to run the risk of a jury getting it wrong. The deal would have him in jail only 17 months longer than, he would have spent waiting in custody for trial.
Don West, veteran criminal defense attorney and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe says Strebendt’s story demonstrates that self-defense cases aren’t always decided by guilt and innocence. “When you go before a jury, homicide is an all or nothing proposition. In difficult cases, sometimes it’s a better bet for the defendant to take a compromise deal if it means he doesn’t have to risk spending the rest of his life in jail.”
Strebendt’s attorney, a former rugby player, admits that in his youth he had a short temper and a reputation as a brawler. In his book he writes about the lessons he learned from seeing his clients past haunt what was otherwise a solid self-defense claim. “Seeing what happened to Gerald,” he writes, “has really made me think twice about carrying my gun.”
In our series “The Four Elements of Self-Defense,” we explore how location, escalation, reasonable fear, and post-incident actions can affect the legal defense in self-defense shootings. This is the third of three cases we are exploring that involve shooting that occur in or near cars — so-called “road rage” shootings. Like most of the shooters we analyze in this series, Gerald Strebendt was NOT a CCW Safe member. We’ve chosen his case because it provides clear lessons for concealed carriers regarding what can go wrong in a self-defense shooting.
In the next installment of “The Four elements of Self-Defense,” we will examine how the location of the shooting of David Crofut factored into Gerald Strebendt’s legal defense.
Shawn Vincent- Litigation Consultant
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know below!