The book that was banned by the Oregon Department of Corrections: From Mike Arnold, criminal defense attorney/author: More often than not, a defense attorney’s clients are guilty. Gerald Strebendt certainly looked guilty of the January 2014 road rage murder. Marine sniper. Blackwater operative. MMA fighter with a 9-7 win-loss record, including an appearance in UFC 44. Strebendt was a trained killer, in other words, & one who just happened to be known for his hothead tendencies. It didn’t help that his truck was a rolling armory that dark night on a rural road in Springfield, Ore., or that the weapon he used to shoot the other unarmed driver wasn’t anybody’s idea of “the right gun” to be carrying around town. It was an AR-15-type rifle, a long, black semiautomatic that the world loves to label a “military assault rifle.”
Yes, Gerald Strebendt sure looked guilty to me. But he told me he was innocent. He said the other guy rammed Gerald’s truck, got out of the car, & began yelling menacingly. That’s when Strebendt grabbed his rifle & began retreating with it, repeatedly telling the other driver to stay back. But the guy kept coming. And that’s when a single shot rang out & only Strebendt was left standing. So, was it road rage? Self-defense? Some combination of the two?
I’m Mike Arnold, attorney for the defense, & this book isn’t just the story of this shooting, or of Gerald Strebendt’s guilt or innocence. It’s also my story. Because, for the first time, I saw myself in one of my clients. And I realized that, in this case, neither one of us was likely to get a fair shake from the judicial system.
The true crime thriller of UFC fighter veteran Gerald “The Finishing Machine” Strebendt, who in 2014 shot & killed an unarmed man after a minor traffic accident. Police detectives called it road rage. Gerald’s attorneys called a press-conference, taking a unique step in a high-profile case in changing the narrative. Within days, self-defense became the key media issue & Gerald awaited a charging decision by the Oregon prosecutor.
Charge: Murder with a Firearm, & thus began the next stage of Gerald’s life. He had served the Marine Corps proudly as a Marine sniper. He had done two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a Blackwater (Academi) mercenary. He had fought mixed martial arts professionally & had a successful MMA-training gym. However, the next stage of his life was a fight for justice & a fight for his life. Was it going to be a murder conviction & a life in prison? Many in the community wanted that, claiming that a trained killer like Gerald Strebendt couldn’t possibly need to shoot an unarmed 55-year-old man with an AR-15 military-style assault rifle. But the truth was much more nuanced.
Finishing Machine is a book about choices. Gerald made choices in his life to fight & compete. Some of these instincts carried on in his post-military life when he was accused of years of prior road rage incidents that the Oregon prosecutor wanted to introduce as evidence at his trial. His attorney Mike Arnold set out to disprove these allegations & get to the truth with science & hard work. Gerald also made a choice that night to use his firearm rather than to run or fight.
Written from the perspective of Gerald’s lead counsel Mike Arnold, the authors’ book takes the reader on a journey of the goings-on in a defense attorney’s mind. Does he doubt his client’s story? How does he deal with surprising evidence? Can he stay the impartial advocate? Does the judge’s gag order turn the case into a secret criminal tribunal at this former UFC fighter’s detriment or does it allow him access to the justice the law requires?
Live the tension of the lawyers & the accused yourself by stepping into the mind of a criminal defense attorney & into the mind of the Finishing Machine.
BOOK EXCERPT: Prologue: Predator or Prey?
The evening was cool and a haze hung low over a dark, rural road where only a truck’s headlights provided illumination. It was January in Springfield, Oregon, so a low fog was not unexpected. But as the evening deepened, the clouds suddenly gave way to a brief, un-forecasted downpour.
One man, trained as a Marine sniper, found himself standing alone.Moments before, he and another man – a stranger – had been in a confrontation. Then came the rain. And now there was only a lingering mist, backlit by the headlights.
He had been trained by the military for exactly this: a coolly evaluated threat, followed by a split-second decision to take action. But he wasn’t on the gun range, not tonight. He hadn’t calculated his move through the lens of a scope, and he hadn’t picked off his target from a safe and detached distance. There were no instructions from afar. This was different. It was up close and personal. The cloudburst had not been rain, and the mist was not made up of water. It was bits of blood, brain, skin and skull.
The shooter lowered his gun, and raised his cell phone to his ear. He needed an ambulance. A man lay shattered on the pavement, his life ebbing away as cars continued to flow past the scene. All around, an audience of dark homes, fences and trees stood as silent witnesses to what had occurred. A woman, having left the safety of her vehicle to investigate the sounds she had heard, screamed at the sight of the long black gun and the violence it had wrought.
Was there any doubt who was the predator, and who was the prey?
Chapter 1: A Potential Case?
I was at home on my small farm outside Creswell, Oregon, on the night of the shooting. Having put my four-year-old daughter to sleep by reading Dr. Seuss’ “The Pale Green Pants” a couple of times front to back, I had returned to the living room to relax. The house was quiet, the lights dimmed. The wood stove was stoked with Douglas fir rounds that I had bucked from a fallen tree from the wooded part of our property the previous year. While enjoying the warmth of the fire, I alternated between reading a case file and online news stories. I noticed a story of gun violence pop up online. Curious, I began reviewing the sparse but gripping details on the small screen of my iPhone.
My name is Mike Arnold and I am a criminal defense attorney who specializes in complex cases. I am the managing partner of an eight-attorney firm located in Eugene, Oregon, almost two hours south of Portland … and just across the Willamette River from Springfield, where the shooting I was reading about had occurred.
The criminal defense section of my firm was built on the bread and butter of low-level crime, cases involving domestic violence, driving under…
From the Back Cover
“Immensely engrossing…an examination of our legal system, good aspects and flaws…splendid writing of this harrowing investigation…a must-read book.” – Grady Harp, Vine™ Voice Reviewer
A single bullet fired on a dark rural road, an unarmed man shot dead. Was it road rage murder? Or self-defense? The authorities didn’t wait to find out. They showed the grand jury Gerald “The Finishing Machine” Strebendt’s credentials as a Marine sniper, an MMA fighter and a two-tour military contractor with Blackwater in Afghanistan. They asked for a murder charge and they got it. Witnesses from all corners of his life lined up to testify against him.
“…he said he was a trained killer, that he’d killed people before….”
“…I was afraid to ride with him in a car….”
“…he told me there was a gun under the seat and I should point it at the other driver…”
Could Mike Arnold – a young, brash attorney who had never tried a murder case on his own – uncover the truth of what happened on the night of the shooting and win the case?
Live the tension of the lawyers & the accused yourself by stepping into the mind of a criminal defense attorney & into the mind of “The Finishing Machine.”
“Immensely engrossing…an examination of our legal system, good aspects and flaws…splendid writing of this harrowing investigation…a must-read book.” – Grady Harp, Vine(TM) Voice Reviewer
“What I found so fascinating about this #book is the perspective from which it’s written….There’s questions of PTSD, what constitutes “fear” in a situation and the choices we make in life that lead to varying consequences. A thorough look into a very interesting case.” – Emily Webb, a Melbourne-based journalist