PORTLAND – When Linda Sarnacki finally got a chance to address the man who murdered her daughter — her precious, irrepressibly upbeat daughter — she spoke not of hatred or vengeance.

She offered forgiveness.

“I know there are other people with anger. I just want you to know I don’t feel that,” she said Wednesday at a hearing before Chad Gurney was sentenced to 60 years in prison for killing 18-year-old Zoe Sarnacki.

“I hope we can all heal after this, and I believe the only way to heal is with forgiveness,” she said, her voice almost inaudible as she wept. “I forgive him.”

After strangling Sarnacki in his apartment in Portland on May 25, 2009, Gurney defiled and decapitated her body, then set the apartment on fire.

Those acts — recounted over Gurney’s two-week trial in January — contributed to the long sentence that Justice Roland Cole handed down in Cumberland County Superior Court.

“That is a horrific and incredible series of events. I don’t recall ever hearing anything else in the state of Maine even close,” Cole said.

The judge said Gurney’s crime, while appalling, did not meet any of the seven requirements for a life sentence under Maine law, such as torture, multiple killings or a planned murder.

The sentence includes 50 years for murder and 10 years for arson, to be served consecutively. With good behavior in prison, Gurney, 29, will be eligible for probation after about 50 years. He has served almost two years since his arrest on the day after the murder.

The minimum sentence for murder is 25 years.

Gurney’s lawyers, Sarah Churchill and Robert LeBrasseur, said they probably will appeal the verdict and the sentence. They contended during Gurney’s trial that he was not guilty by reason of insanity. Such a verdict would have sent Gurney to the state psychiatric hospital rather than prison.

Before he was sentenced, Gurney spoke publicly for the first time since the murder, sobbing as he read from a handwritten statement in which he apologized to Sarnacki’s parents and characterized his actions as “despicable without reason.”

“The air of every moment now feels wrong, tainted with loss and prayers of regret,” he said. “Please know that having a trial was not an attempt to escape punishment or responsibility, but to figure out where I will be spending the next part of my life.”

Gurney, whose head was shaved at the time of the murder, now has a short black beard and long, unkempt hair. His broad shoulders recall the star athlete he once was, but he now walks with a limp that was accentuated Wednesday by the chains binding his ankles.

Gurney attributed his behavior to a traffic accident in 2005 that almost killed him and led to more than two dozen surgeries and undiagnosed psychological problems.

“Yet I can still live, hope and dream. Zoe can no longer do those things and that’s unfair,” he said. “I would give anything to trade places with her.”

Gurney wiped away tears as his mother, Vikki Kemp, spoke on his behalf.

“Chad Gurney has always been and will always be my baby boy,” Kemp said, but his life took a horrible turn when the van carrying his college lacrosse team was hit by a truck.

He survived but was a different person, she said. “I lost my son once and I could not bear to lose him again. … I love him unconditionally,” she said.

Cole conceded that Gurney’s mental illness and the persistent effects of the crash may have contributed to his behavior. He noted that Gurney was a good student with no criminal record before the murder, and showed his remorse after it, trying to plead guilty early in the criminal proceedings and quickly settling financial claims by Sarnacki’s family.

But that did not outweigh the aggravating factors, the judge said.

Gurney and Sarnacki dated for about six weeks. He was upset by her admission that she had been intimate with another man while he was out of town. On May 25, 2009, as she slept in his apartment on Cumberland Avenue, he began to strangle her.

She screamed and struggled and he head-butted her, then put her in a choke hold until she died. Gurney then had sex with her corpse and beheaded it. He showered, changed his clothes and left to get a can of gasoline.

He returned and arranged religious artifacts around her body, soaked the bed and body with gasoline and lit them.

Gurney left with his passport and a bag of belongings, scheduled to leave for Thailand in two days. Police found him at a motel in Old Orchard Beach.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese sought 75 years in prison for Gurney — 50 for murder and 25 for arson. She said Sarnacki’s friends and family will have to live with the images of what Gurney did.

“It is so difficult for anybody even associated with this case to understand how anyone could do that to another person,” Marchese said. “These are things that someone just doesn’t get over.”

William Bolduc was among Sarnacki’s friends and family members who urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence. He said any hope that Gurney has of being released someday comes at the expense of the people who loved Sarnacki.

Others spoke about the former Deering High School student as an upbeat young woman, as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, who was thrilled to be discovering a world full of interesting people.

She was not judgmental, and may have dated Gurney, who was nine years older, over the objections of others because she thought she could help him cope with his issues, friends said.

“She was beautiful. She was bright. She was creative. We don’t know what she would have done in this life,” said her uncle, Tom Fasulo.

Sarnacki followed a vegan diet because she objected to harming other creatures, said her aunt, Laurie Morris, who pledged to keep her niece’s memory alive.

“I will become a better person. I will perform random acts of kindness in her name,” she said.

Morris had no room for forgiveness. Gurney, she said, showed no mercy to her niece, and so he deserves none.

“I think he should have a life sentence and never be allowed to walk the streets again,” Morris said. “There will be no healing for me and there will be no closure for the rest of my life.”

Sarnacki’s parents, however, were beyond bitterness.

As people from both sides of the proceeding filed out of the courtroom, Sarnacki’s father, John Sarnacki, leaned over and hugged Gurney’s mother.

Moments later, he whispered sympathetically, “It’s not her fault.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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