BANGOR, Maine — No one said anything in the courtroom Wednesday morning, but verbal confrontations that almost turned physical erupted shortly after a local teenager charged in the January shooting death of another teen entered two not guilty pleas.
Zachary Carr, 18, was indicted on charges of intentional or knowing murder and adequate provocation manslaughter in the Jan. 29 death of John “Bobby” Surles, 19, in Bangor.
He entered not guilty pleas to both counts during his short appearance before Penobscot County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy.Surles was mortally wounded by a gunshot during a group fight Jan. 28 on Cumberland Street. He died at Eastern Maine Medical Center the following night. Police said the fight involved six to 12 teenagers or young adults in the street near Carr’s home on Cumberland. Court documents say Carr shot an unarmed Surles with a 9 mm handgun.
On Wednesday, two of Bobby Surles’ family members — his grandmother and aunt — entered a courtroom on the second floor of the Penobscot Judicial Center carrying photos of Surles and sat on the right side of the room with two family friends.
On the left side of the courtroom sat 19 of Carr’s friends and family members, including his mother, Holly Carr, and sister, Renissa Carr.
Murphy asked Carr whether he understood the charges against him and the possible penalties, if convicted. Carr answered yes to both questions. If convicted of murder, he faces 25 years to life in prison. If convicted on the manslaughter charge, he faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Adequate provocation manslaughter is defined as intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person under circumstances that do not constitute murder because the person causes the death while under the influence of extreme anger or extreme fear brought about by adequate provocation, Murphy explained.
Under the state’s manslaughter statute, extreme anger or extreme fear brought on by adequate provocation is a mitigating circumstance reducing murder to manslaughter. It would be up to a judge or jury to determine whether the circumstances under which Surles was shot met that standard.
Stephen Smith, Carr’s attorney, has said his client was defending himself when the shooting occurred.
Carr will remain at Penobscot County Jail until his trial date, which was not scheduled.
After Carr entered his pleas and was led away, his friends and relatives left the courtroom. Shortly afterward several of Bobby Surles’ family members and friends, including his father, John Surles, followed.
The loud and boisterous arguments between the two groups, which included some vulgar comments and hand gestures, began in the lobby of the court building and continued outside after security officers asked the two groups to leave.
A Bangor police officer arrived shortly afterward, but by then the two groups were separated on different sides of Exchange Street. They later went their separate ways.
At one point, John Surles became so visibly agitated that he had to be held back by other family members and friends as he attempted to cross the street to confront a group of Carr’s friends.
Bobbie Wentworth, Bobby Surles’ aunt, and John Surles’ sister, said the animosity between the two groups was apparent.
“We didn’t want it to be like that,” she said. “It’s very upsetting. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.”
One of Carr’s friends, Chantel Nielson, 18, said a small group of Surles’ family members and friends followed them out of the courtroom, saying, “You killed Bobby,” she said. “I wasn’t even there [at the shooting].”
Carr’s sister, Renissa Carr, said everything about the situation is “very tough.”
Bobby Surles’ grandparents, Allen and Mary Ann Suddy, who also raised him and adopted him as their son when he was a boy, were meeting with the victim advocate after court and didn’t see the arguments, but were told of them by relatives involved.
Allen Suddy said similar hostility is what led to the group fight that resulted in his son’s death, and he called on police to address the issue of teen gangs in Bangor.
“Bangor PD needs to get their act together because more of this is going on,” he said.
“I only pray another family doesn’t have to go through what we’re going through,” Mary Ann Suddy said.
Carr’s court appearance on Wednesday was the first time the Suddys have seen in person the man accused of killing their son.
“It’s very tough,” Allen Suddy said. “It must have been tough for [Carr’s] family too. Two lives are ruined.”
“It’s just sad all around,” Mary Ann Suddy said. “All I want is justice for the death of my son.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.