PORTLAND, Maine – In an interview with a detective about 12 hours after he strangled Zoe Sarnacki, Chad Gurney described every gruesome detail of the killing, saying he needed to honor his 18-year-old victim by telling the truth.
But when asked why he did it, Gurney struggled to find answers.
“Somehow, this beautiful girl came into my life and swept me off my feet and I did the most horrific deeds anybody could possibly do,” Gurney told Detective Scott Dunham on the morning of May 26, 2009.
“I was in some sort of possessed state,” he said. “I was aware, but like I said, everything was shut off. Like I was just a primal being. I was a monster.”
The interview was a major piece of evidence presented Tuesday, the second day of Gurney’s murder trial in Cumberland County Superior Court. Prosecutors played the entire 2½-hour tape for Justice Roland Cole.
There is no dispute that Gurney, 29, killed Sarnacki in his apartment on Cumberland Avenue on May 25, 2009. The only question is whether he was legally sane at the time. Gurney has waived his right to a jury, so it will be up to Cole to decide whether Gurney is guilty of murder or not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.
If he is found guilty, Gurney will face a minimum of 25 years and a maximum of life in prison.
If Cole finds him not criminally responsible, Gurney will be committed to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta until he can prove to the court that he is no longer a threat to society.
Gurney lived alone in Portland, financially independent because of a seven-figure settlement he had received after a van crash in 2005. He traveled to Hawaii and Vancouver in the months before the killing, and was scheduled to leave for Thailand two days after it happened, as part of a personal spiritual quest.
He met Sarnacki at a tattoo shop in Portland’s Old Port in late March 2009. Sarnacki, a former Deering High School student, worked at a bagel shop and, like Gurney, was interested in world religions, cultures and travel. She had a vibrant, positive personality and was admired by her group of close friends.
In his interview with Detective Dunham, Gurney said he and Sarnacki got along great. He said she had been staying at his apartment, off and on, for about a week and they had not had any fights.
“We were soul mates. Everything about her was just truth,” Gurney said. “I killed the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met.”
Gurney was subdued, soft-spoken and apologetic during the interview. He said repeatedly that his confession had nothing to do with him, but was the only thing he could offer Sarnacki. He cried a few times, and Dunham told him he was doing the right thing by taking responsibility.
Gurney said Sarnacki was napping in his loft on the afternoon of May 25, 2009. He said he climbed up to the loft and choked her with his hands; she struggled and yelled for him to stop.
Gurney said he head-butted her and continued to choke her until she was dead. Afterward, he had sex with her corpse and used three knives to cut off her head. Gurney placed a crucifix between her legs and used gasoline to set the body on fire.
“I’m a horrific person,” Gurney told Dunham.
When asked why he decapitated Sarnacki, Gurney said, “It turned into this ritual, almost.”
Prosecutors have inferred that Gurney might have felt hurt by Sarnacki because she had recently seen someone else, and because she had turned him down when he asked her to quit her job and travel with him.
But in the interview with Dunham, Gurney said Sarnacki had not said anything to hurt him or to make him upset.
The prosecution is expected to continue calling witnesses this morning, unless court is closed because of inclement weather. The trial will likely conclude next week.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.