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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jury convicts gang member who killed 15-year-old University High student of murder

A 21-year-old gang member who shot 15-year-old University High School student Preston Grzogorek over two years ago outside a Spokane Valley apartment complex was convicted of the boy’s murder Tuesday after a weeklong trial.

A jury found Stephen Yohler guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and tampering with a witness. Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese read the guilty verdicts in front of a courtroom packed with Grzogorek’s family, friends and neighbors.

“It helps us know that Preston can get justice,” said Patricia Carlson, Grzogorek’s aunt. “It doesn’t bring him back, of course.”

The shooting stems from March 29, 2021, when Daisy RedThunder, Yohler’s girlfriend, lured Grzogorek from an apartment, 9717 E. Sixth Ave., to buy a vape pen from him.

A friend of RedThunder’s told police that RedThunder sent messages, which were minutes before the shooting, to Grzogorek while she was in Spokane and had no intention to meet Grzogorek, documents say.

RedThunder pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance. She testified against Yohler at his trial and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 20.

Shortly after Grzogorek left the apartment, multiple witnesses told police they heard several gunshots and Grzogorek screaming.

One witness said she heard gunshots and a suspect, later determined to be Yohler, running through the complex. She saw Yohler throw a handgun over a fence, hop the fence and then recover the gun.

Another witness said he saw Grzogorek jogging, appearing to notice someone, then running back toward the apartment he came from. He saw a male wearing a black coat chasing Grzogorek toward the apartment before five or six gunshots rang out and Grzogorek screamed.

Surveillance video captured Yohler entering the apartment complex, loitering around a garage and then sprinting toward Grzogorek’s last known location. Six gunshots and a scream can then be heard.

Yohler told his other girlfriend that he shot and killed Grzogorek because Grzogorek was going to kill him, the girlfriend said in documents. Yohler told her that Grzogorek had “put money on his head.”

A friend of Yohler’s told police Yohler fled to Reno, Nevada, because he shot Grzogorek.

Another witness said RedThunder flew to Reno after Yohler bought her a plane ticket.

Some of Yohler’s charges included aggravating circumstances, including that the murder was “to obtain or maintain his or her membership or to advance his or her position in the hierarchy” of a criminal street gang, to benefit the gang and that he involved a then-minor, RedThunder, in the killing.

Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Preston McCollam said the circumstances allow him to argue for a sentence outside the standard range. McCollam said he will recommend Yohler to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Yohler’s sentencing is Feb. 8.

The jury deliberated most of the day Tuesday before reaching a verdict.

McCollam said he presented evidence of Yohler’s gang association and a rap song in which McCollam said Yohler mentions specific attributes about the crime. McCollam said Yohler testified that he is still associated with the 18th Street Blue Devils.

RedThunder testified against Yohler, and numerous other individuals testified about Yohler’s gang membership.

“This case had a lot of challenges and presented a glimpse into the gang subculture that exists in Spokane,” McCollam said.

After Tuesday’s proceedings, McCollam thanked Grzogorek’s loved ones for packing the courtroom every day of the trial.

Grzogorek’s loved ones said they were thankful for the jury and its verdict.

“The world’s a better place,” said Mike Grzogorek, a family member.

Loved ones said the young Grzogorek was funny, outgoing and loved his family.

Carlson, Grzogorek’s aunt who traveled from Utah, said he always helped people and wanted to make them laugh. She said his sister has no other siblings and she will never be an aunt.

“Now we can kind of begin that stage of healing that couldn’t happen before this,” Carlson said.