FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – On Friday, an Allen County jury found Ron Price, not guilty of shooting to death at close range two Fort Wayne women, cut down as they waited desperately for help in a first floor bathroom at 815 Third St.
However, the jury did find him guilty on felony murder, the act of committing another crime while murder is being committed, and a fifth charge of guilty of attempted murder. Felony murder carries the same sentence as murder, so he’s facing 45 to 65 years of prison when he’s sentenced March 10 at 2:30 p.m.
It took the jury about three hours to come to their decision, one that had elements to please the defense and prosecutor. Text messages placed Price at 815 Third St on April 20, 2021 around 5 p.m. when Jennifer Dray, 40, and Amanda Shroyer, 30, had barricaded themselves in a first floor bathroom, shielding themselves from Joshua Dube, 37, who was waving a Glock 9mm around and threatening them.
Defense attorney Anthony Churchward wanted the jury to believe Ronald Price was a pitiful homeless guy sitting in a vehicle outside 815 Third St., dope sick, and waiting for Marina Zrnic and two others to exit the home. He’d ridden in the back seat with Zrnic, one of the star witnesses, and used heroin during the course of the ride, 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 aka Cash. For everyone involved in this drama, Cash was their boss, their employer, their friend and family and, for some, their pharmacologist.
According to Zrnic, 33, one of the star witnesses who sold dope out of Hawthorn Suites across the hall from Cash, she and Dube alternated shifts over a 24/7 hour schedule, selling marijuana, heroin, fentanyl, Spice, methamphetamine, cocaine, pretty much anything you needed in the drug world. Cash presided over a drug 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.
“There are three people who played a part, who played role,” Helge told the jurors. “We heard from them and they will do significant time.”
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 Wednesday.
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. There was no exit stage left or stage right, however. 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 the defense hammered away at the lack of a murder weapon. Price allegedly told Dube at the Allen County Jail that’s he’d burned his clothes and taken the gun apart.
Anthony Churchward, Price’s attorney, said plea deals meant that Dube and Zrnic would serve way less time in prison by uniting against Price. Churchward called Price “the perfect patsy,” sitting alone in the backseat, dopesick and homeless.
No wonder homicide detective Scott Tegtmeyer found Price nervous at the first police interview. “He’d just been accused of shooting people,” Churchward said.
”Your job is not to dispense justice or speculate,” Churchward told the jury. Instead, the 12 jurors must choose their verdict on what is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The final event that robbed two families of a loved one started at 4:35 p.m. By 5:05 p.m., the women had been shot dead. Zrnic and Dube said they both witnessed the shooting and said Price was the shooter, who walked in and “just started shooting.”
The jury wasn’t so sure, but certainly felt he was there and found him guilty of two counts of felony murder.
After the verdicts were pronounced by Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull, there was relief on both sides. The shoulders of Betty Davis heaved on the shoulder of her son, Nathaniel Johnson. Outside the courtroom, Davis said justice was served for her and her grandchildren, the four Amanda left behind.
Carlina Shock, Jennifer Dray’s sister, was emotional.
“I’ve prayed every single night, please God, I beg of you to please that he’s guilty and God heard my prayers, wonderful,” Carlina said through a sign language interpreter. “ Amen. I am so happy. And right after this, I am going to visit my sister’s grave and tell her yes, yes. I just have to wait until March the 10th and they’re going to do the sentencing. However I am happy that this part is over with.”
“We’re grateful for the great work on behalf of the Fort Wayne Police Department,” she said.
Helge said the verdict held all three coparticipants responsible and that included Price, Zrnic and Dube.
In exchange for their testimony against Price, both Dube and Zrnic have pending plea agreements. Under the deals, Dube would get a 30-year sentence for robbery, criminal confinement and drug dealing charges and Zrnic would get a 15-year sentence with five suspended for attempted robbery. The plea agreements still have to be accepted by a judge.