Judge: Law prevented life sentence in case of Portland man who decapitated girlfriend

Posted March 17, 2011, at 12:32 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A judge who sentenced a 29-year-old Portland man to 60 years in prison for strangling his girlfriend, decapitating her and setting fire to her body said Maine law prevented him from imposing a life sentence.

In sentencing Chad Gurney on Wednesday in the 2009 killing of 18-year-old Zoe Sarnacki, Justice Roland Cole said Gurney’s “horrific” crime did not meet requirements set forth by the Maine supreme court for life sentences — such as premeditation, multiple victims or torture.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said the facts of the case were atrocious but that “torture” or “extreme cruelty” didn’t apply because Sarnacki was already dead when her body was violated.

Marchese said it was still a harsh sentence, and that Gurney won’t be eligible for release until he’s in his 70s.

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