‘There’s this law and street law and this law has convicted you’ – friend of victims
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A man convicted of two counts of felony murder in a Third Street double homicide that took the lives of two Fort Wayne women roughly two years ago was sentenced to 130 years in prison Friday.
It was the maximum sentence possible for 50-year-old Ronald Price, one of three charged in the killings.
A felony murder count carries a sentence of 45 to 65 years.
Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull did not sympathize with the convicted man’s defense attorney, Anthony Churchward, who argued his client’s long history of substance abuse, starting before he was 16, should be taken into consideration in the sentencing.
He had plenty of chances to seek help, according to Gull.
Churchward asked for 45 years, arguing it would amount to a life sentence. He also compared Price’s sentence to the two who already took plea deals in the killings – a woman convicted in the killings essentially received 10 years; a man involved got 30 years. Churchward called those “minimum sentences.”
Price was remorseful while continuing to maintain his innocence, Churchward added.
There were two victims on April 20, 2021. Jennifer Dray, 40, and Amanda Shroyer, 30, were cut down by bullets at close range when one of them cracked open the door to the downstairs bathroom of a home at 815 Third St.
The other two implicated in the killings – Joshua Dube, 37, and Marina Zrnic, 33 – said Price was the shooter.
Jury members at Price’s trial last month were not convinced about him being the shooter, but they believed he took part in the killings.
The jury found Price not guilty of the two counts of murder but guilty on two counts of felony murder – the act of committing a crime while murder is being committed.
At the sentencing Friday, Gull agreed to drop a fifth charge of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury.
This being the sentencing, family and friends were invited to give victim impact statements.
‘I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you’ – victim’s mother
Betty Davis, Shroyer’s mother, magnanimously told Price she hoped he would “do better,” acknowledging that she knew her daughter went to the house for drugs. She said she “went round and round” about that with her daughter and that she wasn’t a fool.
“I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you,” Davis told Price.
Kevin Smitley, a friend of Dray, looked over at Price, telling him that he “took the most wonderful person I ever knew.” He didn’t know Shoyer, he said, who was not part of the beef that was going on with the major players in this crime. Smitley attributed their deaths to greed.
“There’s this law and street law and this law has convicted you. I hope you take this time and let it actually sink in. Own it and deal with it,” Smitley said. “Someday, I’ll get to dance with Dray. I’ll get to dance with Amanda. “
Wearing prison orange, Price said he was there when the shootings happened but did not pull the trigger.
“I am not the shooter,” he said, adding that the death of the women was “sad” and that he hoped the family would be peaceful and safe.
Text messages placed Price at the Third Street home around 5 p.m. when Dray and Shroyer had barricaded themselves in a first-floor bathroom, shielding themselves from Dube, who was threatening them with a Glock pistol.
Price was in a car with Zrnic and two others. They drove to the house at 815 Third St. to recuperate a red Trailblazer that Dray had used but belonged to Walter Kash, aka “Cash,” who had the lease on the Third Street home and was in the midst of a remodel. Dray was his live-in girlfriend.
Defense attorney Anthony Churchward portrayed Price as a strung out homeless man sitting in a vehicle outside 815 Third St. at the time of the killings. Price was dope sick and waiting for Zrnic and the others to exit the home, Churchward said, having used heroin during the course of the ride to the home, according to testimony.
As both the state and defense explained, the chain of events that led to the women’s deaths wouldn’t have happened save for the overdose death of Walter Kash. For everyone involved in this drama, the man known as Cash was their boss, their employer, their friend and family and, for some, their pharmacologist.
Zrnic testified during Price’s trial that she sold dope out of Hawthorn Suites across the hall from Cash. She and Dube alternated shifts over a 24/7-schedule, selling marijuana, heroin, fentanyl, spice, methamphetamine, cocaine and pretty much anything anyone could need in the illicit drug world.
Cash presided over the empire.
Prosecutors Tesa Helge, chief counsel, and Tom Chaille, chief deputy prosecutor, said Price’s world came apart with the death of this benefactor. He’d been kicked out of 801 Third St., according to Ronald Nifong, Price’s landlord and the one for 815 Third St.
Nifong, who lived next door to 815, was in the process of selling the property to Cash. Dube, engaged to Cash’s sister, was determined to take over the house contract and everything else that belonged to the drug empire his future brother-in-law had built.
Price was beside himself after Cash’s death, they said. Two days after Cash’s fentanyl overdose on April 16, people blamed Dray because she was with him that night along with a hotel prostitute. Price was seen by several people having a “huge argument” with Dray on the sidewalk outside 815 Third St., including Nifong who said Price was wearing a hoodie that day “which he usually wore.”
Cash kept Price going by giving him odd jobs, including helping the contractor with the remodel of 815 Third St. and selling him drugs through his network.
“After his death, he has nowhere to go, no drugs,” Helge explained.
Nifong’s talk of the hoodie was significant because the shooter was described as wearing a hoodie that obscured his face.
Dray felt entitled to the house, the drugs left there, cash and the red Trailblazer because she lived there and she was Cash’s girlfriend, Zrnic and others explained. She paid the utility bills and was using the red Trailblazer Cash owned through an arrangement with Dube.
“In the street world, this is her vehicle,” Zrnic said on the witness stand during Price’s trial.
But Dube didn’t feel that way, and on April 20, showed up around 2:35 p.m. to claim everything and force the departure of Dray. Dray stayed put, digging in her heels and appealed to friends as she and the unwitting Shroyer barricaded themselves in the first floor bathroom while telling people on the outside that Dube had a gun and was threatening them.
Their texts reveal how scared they were. At the same time, Dube and his sales partner Zrnic were in communication.
“Come get the Trailblazer,” Dube texted to Zrnic.
“I’m not leaving until she does,” Dube warns.
Helge said Dube could have easily shot them that afternoon after he told people to leave. As much as he wanted Dray out of there, he wasn’t stupid or agitated enough to shoot them, nor did he want witnesses. When he knew trouble was on its way, he sent three or four people out of the house.
But Zrnic said she didn’t see Price with a gun and the murder weapon was never found. Price allegedly told Dube at the Allen County Jail that’s he’d burned his clothes and taken the gun apart.
Dube was sentenced Feb. 24 to 20 years for robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, criminal confinement and possession of methamphetamine, both for 10 years that will be served concurrently with the 20-year sentence.
He was originally charged with felony murder, but prosecutors dropped that as part of his plea deal.
Zrnic was sentenced to 15 years with five years suspended for robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. She was also charged with felony murder, which was dropped as part of her plea deal with prosecutors.