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State seeks 12 years, defense asks for five in prison killing

By Stephen Betts | Jun 01, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts Zachary Titus with attorney Steven Peterson during the plea hearing Dec. 17, 2020, in the Knox County court.

Rockland — The prosecution and defense are far apart on how much additional time a Thomaston man should serve for the June 2018 killing of another inmate at the Maine State Prison farm.

Zachary W. Titus, 35, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday, June 4, in the Knox County Superior Court.

Titus pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to manslaughter. He previously entered a not guilty plea in February 2019 to a murder charge. The murder charge was dropped in exchange to the guilty plea to the manslaughter charge.

Titus was charged with the June 24, 2018, strangling death of 28-year-old Dana R. Bartlett at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.

The sentence agreement reached in December called for a sentence of 18 years in prison, with all but 12 years suspended. That 12 years will be a cap, and Peterson can argue for less time including all suspended to be followed by four years of probation.

Defense attorneys Stephen Peterson and Naomi Cohen filed a memo with the court May 28, saying the amount of time Titus should spend should be in the range of five years.

Assistant District Attorney Leane Zainea also filed her sentencing memo May 28 and recommended he serve 12 additional years.

The minimum mandatory sentence for murder in Maine is 25 years, with the possibility of life in prison. Manslaughter has a 30 year maximum sentence.

Zainea listed several aggravating factors in imposing a 12-year unsuspended sentence. She pointed out the impact on the family of losing Bartlett, who was a son and brother. The prosecutor also cited the conscious suffering of Bartlett, who couldn't breathe, as Titus continued to keep him in a choke-hold.

The assistant attorney general said Titus has not shown remorse and denied involvement at the beginning.

Zaine said a final aggravating factor is Titus' criminal record, which includes a gross sexual assault in 1999 and a domestic violence assault in 2009. Titus also has numerous lesser convictions including writing bad checks, burglary of a motor vehicle and drug possession.

Titus is also under investigation for trafficking in prison contraband at the Knox County Jail, the prosecutor said.

"It is clear that the aggravating factors substantially outweigh the sole mitigating factor of acceptance of responsibility," Zainea states in her sentencing memo.

"The defendant who was in prison at the time and who has spent most of his adult life in the criminal justice system put Dana Bartlett in a choke-hold and continued to apply pressure as Dana Bartlett struggled to breathe. Ultimately, Dana succumbed to the defendant's hold and died as a result."

The defense attorneys argued in their sentencing memo that the five-year range was appropriate.

Two days before the killing, Bartlett reportedly attacked Titus, the defense attorneys said in their memo. Bartlett threw a chair at Titus, then punched him in the face, they said.

The defense also claim Bartlett started the altercation on the day of the killing, and that Titus ended up getting Bartlett in a "sleeper hold" to try and stop the attack.

While in prison after the June 2018 killing, Titus earned his high school equivalency and completed courses such as Houses of Health Program and Alternative to Violence Program.

An affidavit filed by the state in court in February 2019 alleged a fight over stolen cigarettes led to the death. The affidavit by State Police Detective Joshua Birmingham stated witnesses said Titus put a choke hold on Bartlett during the fatal altercation.

The autopsy done on Bartlett by the Maine Medical Examiner's Office determined he died of strangulation.

Bartlett was housed at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in a room with three other inmates.

The affidavit stated Titus went to a corrections officer June 24, 2018, and said Bartlett needed help. The officer performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and administered Narcan to Bartlett, as is part of the emergency response, not knowing what occurred. The officer and emergency medical services personnel from Warren and Waldoboro were unable to revive Bartlett.

Titus and the other two roommates were strip-searched and their clothing was taken by prison staff immediately after the death occurred. Titus had scratches and bruises on his body, but the other two inmates did not, according to the police report. Staff also seized a wristwatch worn by Titus.

Bartlett had a large scratch under his chin.

A recorded telephone call from earlier in the day revealed Titus accused Bartlett of stealing cigarettes from one of the roommates. Titus also said he and Bartlett got into a fight a few days earlier, where Bartlett punched Titus in the mouth, according to the affidavit.

Investigators reviewed surveillance videos of the hallway where Bartlett, Titus and the other two inmates lived. It showed Bartlett entering the room, then several minutes later the two other roommates leaving the room. Four minutes later, Titus leaves the room and goes into the bathroom, and a red-brown stain can be seen on his T-shirt. He can also been seen looking at his fingernails, according to the affidavit.

One of the roommates, Joshua Welch, told investigators that when he returned to the room after a smoke break, he saw Bartlett's lifeless body on the floor, and Titus told him Bartlett "just came at me and I choked him out." Welch said as he left the room, Titus was trying to wake up Bartlett.

The other roommate, Robert Payzant, told investigators he witnessed Titus and Bartlett get into a fight, and Titus put Bartlett in a sleeper hold. Payzant claimed when he left, Bartlett was snoring, according to the affidavit.

A DNA test of Titus' watch found blood DNA from Bartlett on it.

Titus was serving a two-year prison term for felony theft at the time of Bartlett's death, having begun his sentence in March 2018. That two-year sentence was completed in September and bail was no longer a moot point. He continues to be held without bail after waiving his right to a bail hearing.

His last residence before prison was Beechwood Street in Thomaston, according to court records.

Prior to his sentencing in March 2018 for theft and criminal trespass at Wal-Mart, Titus sought admission to the Maine Coastal Regional Re-entry Center in Belfast.

He wrote a letter to the court asking to be allowed into the center, saying he thought programs such as for substance abuse and anger management could help him from committing new offenses.

"I also would like to attend bible studies and church when available to maintain my spirituality," Titus stated in his letter.

Bartlett was sentenced in March 2018 in Androscoggin Superior Court to 16 months in prison for driving a motor vehicle, after his license was revoked as a habitual offender. He lived in Lewiston.

Back in August 2018, Jason Palmiter, who was released July 6, said he spoke with Bartlett the day he died, and that Bartlett went to a corrections officer and asked to be moved to another cell, because he was being threatened. Other people in his cell suspected him of stealing cigarettes, according to Palmiter.

Bartlett then voiced concern to Palmiter, commenting that the guard did not seem concerned and did nothing, Palmiter said.

Justice Bruce Mallonee is presiding over the case.

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