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Thomaston man to change plea in prison murder case

By Stephen Betts | Nov 12, 2020
Zachary Titus with his former attorney Jeremy Pratt of Camden at a 2019 court hearing. Titus is now represented by attorney Steven Peterson.

Rockland — A 35-year-old Thomaston man is scheduled to change his plea to a charge that he murdered a fellow inmate at the state prison farm in June 2018.

Zachary W. Titus is scheduled to change his plea at a hearing to be held Dec. 17 at the Knox County court. He previously entered a not guilty plea in February 2019.

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

Defense attorney Steven Peterson said Friday, Nov. 13 that an agreement has been reached in which the murder charge will be lowered to a manslaughter charge. The sentence agreement calls 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 probation.

Peterson had said in May 2019 he may raise self-defense in defending Titus.

The minimum mandatory sentence for murder in Maine is 25 years.

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.

Titus was indicted in January 2019 by a Knox County grand jury.

His trial was originally scheduled for May, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted trial schedules.

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

Titus has a lengthy criminal record in Knox County, but none for violent offenses. Since 2013, there are multiple theft cases, burglary of a motor vehicle and negotiating a worthless instrument.

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 that 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.

An affidavit filed by the state in court in February 2019 alleged a fight over stolen cigarettes led to the death. The affidavit by Maine 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 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 other 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 other 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 that 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 that when he left, the room Bartlett was snoring, according to the affidavit.

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

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

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea is prosecuting the case.

Justice Bruce Mallonee has been assigned to preside over the case.

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