March 4, 2010

Affidavits detail man's confession in slayingNATION/CONTINUED FROM THE FRONT PAGE

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — In an interview with police about 10 hours after the killing of Zoe Sarnacki on May 25, Chad Gurney said he had been in a physical struggle with the 18-year-old, strangled her to death and decapitated her at his apartment on Cumberland Avenue.

Gurney placed a crucifix and other items on and around Sarnacki's body, suggestive of a ritual, according to police. He then went to the Mobil station on Park Avenue and bought $2.50 worth of gasoline.

''Gurney told Detective (Scott) Dunham that he then returned to his apartment, where he poured the gasoline on Zoe's body and ignited it,'' Portland police Detective Eli Chase wrote in an affidavit May 29.

Details of Gurney's confession, along with previously undisclosed information about the killing, are in two police affidavits that have been unsealed in Cumberland County Superior Court.

The affidavits were filed in connection with search warrants for Gurney's laptop computer, Blackberry, iPod and Facebook history.

Gurney, 28, is charged with murder and arson. He has pleaded not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

The next step in the case is for the State Forensic Service to do an in-depth psychological evaluation of Gurney, once a bed opens at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

According to the police affidavits, Gurney's best friend told detectives that although Gurney did not have traditional religious beliefs, he considered himself to be ''some type of 'prophet.'''

Gurney was scheduled to fly to Thailand on May 27. His friend told police that Gurney had been giving away personal belongings in anticipation of the trip, which apparently was part of his personal spiritual quest.

According to the affidavits, Gurney left his apartment after setting the fire around 6:35 p.m. on May 25, bringing only a bag packed for his trip, his computer and a shotgun.

Gurney checked into a motel in Old Orchard Beach and spent some time in the motel's hot tub, the owner said.

Shortly after 2 a.m. on May 26, Portland police Officer Jason King spoke to him on a cell phone. Gurney told King that he wanted to turn himself in. He came out of his motel room at 4 a.m. and surrendered to police.

During an interview with Detective Dunham, Gurney said there was no particular reason why he mutilated Sarnacki or placed the artifacts around her body.

Robert LeBrasseur, Gurney's lawyer, said the details of the affidavits provide evidence that his client was not sane at the time.

''No one who is sane is going to engage in this type of conduct,'' LeBrasseur said Thursday.

He said Gurney had no criminal history.

''Then, all of a sudden, you have this kind of conduct. I think that speaks volumes,'' LeBrasseur said.

Although LeBrasseur is not contesting the account in the affidavits, he said he is concerned that their public release will harm his client's chance for a fair trial, if the case gets that far.

''My concern is that the press is going to sensationalize things, instead of providing a complete consideration of all the facts,'' he said.

LeBrasseur said Gurney suffers from some form of mental illness, possibly related to a nearly fatal van accident in 2005 that left him with a brain injury and serious damage to his arms, legs and spine.

Gurney received a seven-figure settlement after the crash, and he has been living on $7,000 a month from the settlement, plus $900 a month from a Social Security disability claim, court records show.

Gurney met Sarnacki at a tattoo shop in Portland about two months before the killing. After that, Sarnacki often spent time with Gurney in Portland.

Sarnacki's relatives have said that she was reading a lot about various world religions, philosophies and cultures, and was intrigued by Gurney's interest in those topics.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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