BANGOR, Maine — Holly Carr on Friday urged teenagers to stay in school, earn their diplomas, get jobs and be happy after her 20-year-old son was sentenced to 35 years in prison for murder.
Nearly two years ago, Zachary Carr shot and killed John “Bobby” Surles, 19, of Bangor in a street fight between two rival groups.
His mother said outside the courtroom that the sentence was a bit too long. Holly Carr, of Hampden, said that because of how events unfolded on the night of Jan. 27, 2010, her son should have been sentenced to 25 years, the minimum sentence.
“The responsibility for Bobby’s death fell on [Zachary],” she said. “None of the others took responsibility for what happened. I pray and hope the kids involved will find better things to do with their lives than terrorize Bangor.”
The rivalry that led to Surle’s death still was evident outside the courthouse after the sentencing when Bangor police searched an SUV and found a handgun after a man reportedly flashed an empty holster at Carr’s friends.
No charges have been filed, Sgt. Chip Hodges said Friday afternoon.
“There was a gun found in a car nearby,” he said. “It wasn’t being flashed around. … We took it as a security thing.”
Police have been called to the courthouse during previous court hearings involving the murder case, and Friday’s scene — with family members and friends of both Surles and Carr on hand — was described as “tense” by Hodges.
Carr was found guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter by a Penobscot County jury in March after a weeklong trial. He faced a maximum sentence of life. The state does not have a death penalty.
“I’ve made some mistakes,” a tearful Carr told Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy shortly before she imposed the sentence. “I sincerely express remorse to Bobby’s family. I made some poor decisions that I wish I could change.”
Carr did not react when the judge announced the sentence.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who prosecuted the case, on Friday called Surles’ death a gang-style execution. He recommended that Carr be sentenced to 40 years behind bars.
Defense attorney F. David Walker IV described the fight between the two groups as a street brawl. He urged Murphy to impose the minimum sentence.
Mary Ann Suddy, Surles’ grandmother, who adopted him when he was 10, described keeping vigil at his bedside as he lost his battle to live less than 24 hours after he was shot.
“I truly believe he knew he was dying,” she said. “He fought hard for his life.”
A weeping Suddy urged Murphy to impose a sentence longer than the mandatory minimum.
“All my family and me want is a fair and just sentence,” she said. “Zachary Carr was John’s judge and jury that night. He was found guilty of of murder. You hold the power to sentence him as he sentenced my son.”
Laurie Uhrim, a friend of the Carr family, asked the judge to impose a light sentence.
“He is a good man,” she said. “He deserves a second chance so he can talk to other kids about this.”
Murphy said that calling it an execution “oversimplifies what happened.” She also told the packed courtroom that she could find no factual, reliable evidence that the incident was gang-related.
“There’s no doubt that Bobby Surles suffered terribly before he died,” the judge said. “At least one witness who came to his aid after he was shot testified that Bobby Surles was terrified he was going to die.”
Murphy found that the aggravating factors in the case, which included the gun, Surles’ suffering and the victim impact on his family and friends, outweighed the mitigating factors of Carr’s young age and clean record.
After the sentencing Benson confirmed that before the trial, Carr turned down an offer to plead guilty to manslaughter and serve less than 10 years in prison.
“Thirty-five years is a far cry from that,” he said.
Walker said the verdict would be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
BDN writers Nok-Noi Ricker and Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.
Correction: An early version of this story requires correction. The man who flashed a holster after the sentencing at people outside the courtroom was not a friend of Surles. Bangor police revealed to television reporters and a Bangor Daily News photographer the man's name. The man has not been charged. The BDN reports in print the names of individuals charged with crimes.