State seeks 40 years, defense asks for 25 for Bangor teen guilty of murder

Zachary Carr walks into a Penobscot County Judicial Center courtroom on Thursday, June 30, 2011.
Zachary Carr walks into a Penobscot County Judicial Center courtroom on Thursday, June 30, 2011.
Posted Nov. 27, 2011, at 6:58 p.m.
John &quotBobby" Surles
Courtesy of the Suddy family
John "Bobby" Surles
Zachary Carr reacts after the jurry announced that they found him guilty of murder at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. Carr shot John &quotBobby" Surles in January 2010 in Bangor.
Zachary Carr reacts after the jurry announced that they found him guilty of murder at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. Carr shot John "Bobby" Surles in January 2010 in Bangor.
Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy addresses the Penobscot Judicial Center courtroom during the Thursday, June 30, 2011, hearing requesting a new trial for Zachary Carr for the 2010 death of John &quotBobby" Surles.
Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy addresses the Penobscot Judicial Center courtroom during the Thursday, June 30, 2011, hearing requesting a new trial for Zachary Carr for the 2010 death of John "Bobby" Surles.

BANGOR, Maine — The teenager who shot and killed a rival nearly two years ago will be a middle-aged man before he is released from prison whether a judge imposes the minimum sentence of 25 years or the 40 years requested by the prosecution.

Zachary Carr, 21, of Bangor is scheduled to be sentenced Friday by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy at the Penobscot Judicial Center for the murder of John “Bobby” Surles, 19, of Bangor.

Carr was found guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter by a Penobscot County jury in March after a week-long trial. Under Maine law, Carr faces between 25 years and life in prison. The state does not have a death penalty.

In their sentencing memorandums, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson recommended Carr serve 40 years in prison while defense attorney F. David Walker IV of Portland urged Murphy to impose a sentence of 25 years. The mandatory minimum is nearly four times the seven years Carr reportedly rejected in a plea deal that required him to plead guilty to manslaughter.

Carr shot Surles around 6 p.m. Jan. 27, 2010, on Cumberland Street in Bangor in what Benson has called a gang fight and Walker described as a street brawl. Surles died the next day.

Benson outlined in his sentencing memorandum the aggravating factors in the case that justified a 40-year sentence. They included the effect of Surles’ death on his family and friends, the fact that the victim knew he had been shot and severely injured, and Carr’s testimony in his own defense, which, due to the jury’s verdict, was perjury.

“Another aggravating factor that the court cannot overlook [and perhaps the most significant aggravating factor in the case] is the fact that this murder is gang-related,” Benson wrote. “Gang violence is relatively rare in Maine, but, in recent years it has been making ever-increasing inroads.

The defendant, whatever current claims he may make to the contrary, was intimately involved in the gang lifestyle, and, to a large extent, he has reaped, in shooting Bobby Surles, exactly what he has sewn.”

Walker said the mitigating factors in the case, including Carr’s young age, his clean criminal record and his remorse over Surles’ death, outweighed the aggravating ones. The defense attorney also strongly disagreed with Benson’s calling the shooting gang related.

“The assertion that this was a gang shooting — as opposed to a street brawl between two groups of friends — is not supported by any of the evidence before this court,” he wrote in his sentencing memorandum. “Indeed, the sequence of events leading to the confrontation began with the juvenile prank of throwing eggs and thereafter escalated.”

Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia said the week after Surles died that while there were groups of teens and young adults who associated together and called themselves by well-known gang names, such as “Bloods,” there were no real gangs in the city.

“In this instance, it appears we have one group of young people angry at another group,” Gastia said in a Feb. 6, 2010, story. “I wouldn’t consider that gang activity in the traditional sense.”

Murphy will be the one to decide whether Surles died in a gang shoot-out or a street brawl. How she classifies the incident may affect the number of years Carr spends behind bars.

Friday’s sentencing will not be the end of the case, however. Walker has said he will appeal Murphy’s denial this summer of his motion for a new trial to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

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