Zachary Phach and attorney Caleigh Milton attend a pretrial motion hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland in June. Phach has been charged with the 2012 murder of Matthew Blanchard, as well as the attempted murders of John Howard Jr., Joshua Hersom and Corey Blanchard. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A judge has ruled that several contested pieces of evidence can be used in the trial of the man accused of a 2012 shooting death in Portland.

Matthew Blanchard

Cumberland County Superior Justice John O’Neil ruled Friday against throwing out evidence that police say points to Zachary Phach, 33, as the man who shot Matthew Blanchard early on July 11, 2012.

Phach’s attorneys had argued detectives used a suggestive lineup of photos to prompt a jailhouse informant to identify him as the shooter. Phach is scheduled to go to trial on July 17.

Phach was one of two men police arrested in 2021 in connection with Blanchard’s death. Last fall, Khang Tran pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to four years in prison. Phach is facing charges of murder, aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy.

Police had identified Tran as a potential suspect in 2014 when an informant, Jorge Torres, who was being held at York County Jail on unrelated charges, told detectives that he was willing to share information about the shooting in exchange for reducing his charges, court records state.

Using a series of photographs police had printed from Tran’s Facebook page, Torres identified Phach as the shooter. Torres told a detective that he recognized Phach because he was wearing an oversized white T-shirt in the photo, something he often wore, according to court documents.


Phach’s attorneys told the court that the photos were extremely suggestive because they were grainy and printed in black and white so that the image of the white T-shirt is the first thing someone would identify. They argued Torres couldn’t even identify Phach by his full name. Detectives sent the picture to the whole police department after speaking with Torres, and another officer said he recognized Phach from an unrelated arrest a year earlier.

O’Neil wrote in his ruling that the photos were not unfairly suggestive and that the department’s method of identifying Phach using other officers was appropriate.

The judge also shot down a request by Phach’s attorneys seeking to effectively end the whole case by finding that Portland police failed to preserve evidence that would allow Phach’s defense team to investigate an alternative suspect: Matthew Sanders, whom investigators received several tips about early in their investigation.

Several people called Portland police after the shooting alleging Sanders had told them he was the shooter and later that he was involved. Police met with Sanders at least twice and searched his phone for a video linking Sanders to the shooting. That phone was returned to him when no evidence was found on it, court records state.

“In 2012, no suspect at all had been identified besides Mr. Sanders himself,” the attorneys wrote. “Failing to maintain a crucial piece of evidence, which could hold a video of the shooting, is far worse than poor practice, this is bad faith. This significantly inhibits the defendant’s ability to investigate the case and mount an alternative suspect defense.”

But O’Neil ruled Friday that police proved they didn’t have enough probable cause to keep Sander’s phone or investigate him further.

“(T)he court cannot conclude it was unreasonable to return the phone to Sanders,” O’Neil wrote. “There is no showing the phone had exculpatory evidence or that the Portland police were acting in bad faith.”

It’s unclear whether Sanders will be involved in Phach’s trial. Assistant Attorneys General Lara Nomani and Bud Ellis could object to calling Sanders as a witness. According to the judge’s order, he’s currently incarcerated in Indiana.

The judge appointed Robert LeBrasseur to represent Sanders in the event he’s called to testify. LeBrasseur declined to discuss his client’s involvement in the case and why he’s in prison out of state.

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