A 9-year-old investigation into the shooting death of a Gray man and wounding of two others in downtown Portland led to the arrest and indictment of two suspects this month, police said Thursday.

Matt Blanchard

Zachary T. Phach, 31, and Khang Tran, 27, were indicted April 9 by a Cumberland County grand jury in the slaying of Matt Blanchard, 24, and wounding of two of his brothers as they walked near Congress and India streets on July 11, 2012, Portland police said in a news release.

Phach and Tran are charged with murder, aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy.

Portland police said in 2012 that the attack appeared to be random, but investigators now believe Tran and Phach had targeted the four men, Portland police said in the release.

Tran was already in custody in the federal Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania, for unrelated crimes. Phach was arrested in Modesto, California, on April 20. Extradition proceedings will be held for both before they can be brought back to Maine to stand trial, police said.

Blanchard had walked to a store to buy snacks with three of his brothers around 1 a.m. when they were attacked near the corner of Congress and India streets. Blanchard, who was wearing a cast on his foot and pushing himself on a bicycle, was shot in the chest and pronounced dead at Maine Medical Center. His stepbrother Joshua Hersom and half-brother, John Howard Jr., were treated for injuries that were not life-threatening, police said at the time. Another brother, Corey Blanchard, was not wounded in the attack.

Zachary Phach Courtesy of Portland Police Department

Security video reviewed by detectives after the shootings showed that many pedestrians and cars were in the area. Witnesses told police they saw two men running west on Congress Street after the shooting, but gave varying descriptions of them.

Police believe Phach shot Blanchard and the other two with a 9 mm firearm after Tran directed Phach to bring a gun to that area to settle a “beef” with Blanchard, Hersom, Howard and Corey Blanchard. Phach fired multiple rounds that injured Hersom and Howard and killed Matt Blanchard, according to the affidavit.

There is no further description of the alleged motive and police would not provide any further information Thursday.

Blanchard’s father, Ron Blanchard of Scarborough, said in a telephone interview Thursday night that he was told about the arrests when he met with Portland police Wednesday evening.

“It has been a long nine years,” Blanchard said. “It has been hard. My emotions have been up and down.”

Blanchard praised police for not giving up on their investigation and said the arrests will help bring some degree of closure and relief to the family. In the years that followed his son’s murder, Blanchard said he could not stop thinking about who might have committed such a “cowardly” act. He also could not stop worrying about the possibility that his son’s killers might try to harm his other sons.

Blanchard said he can rest easy now knowing that his son’s alleged killers are in jail.

“One way or another, justice will be served through the court or the jail system,” Blanchard said. “They are very bad people.”

Ron Blanchard said he could not speak for the brothers who were with Matt that night.

“They’ll never be fully recovered from what happened, but this was a big step toward recovery,” he said.

The young men with Matt Blanchard that night were his half brothers and a stepbrother. They were tight-knit and Matt Blanchard was the oldest, someone the others looked up to.

The indictment and arrest warrants in the case had been sealed because police and prosecutors thought there was a “significant possibility” Phach would flee if he found out that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, according to court records.

Phach was found guilty in 2014 of a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon, according to criminal history records from the Maine State Bureau of Identification.

Tran was sentenced on Jan. 13, 2020, in U.S. District Court in Portland to federal prison after being found guilty on two counts of possession and distribution of more than 500 grams of cocaine, according to federal court records. At the time of his arrest in October 2018 by Maine Drug Enforcement Agency special agent Sean Hurley, Tran was living in a South Portland apartment.

Khang Tran Courtesy of Portland Police Department

Matt Blanchard, who had been living in Gray, was staying in Portland at the time of the shooting because he was despondent over the death of his girlfriend in a car accident that happened when Blanchard fell asleep while driving.

Family members said after his death that Blanchard was outgoing, funny, respected by those around him and often the life of the party. He worked odd jobs while taking classes at Southern Maine Community College to become a plumber, and had three young children.

Detectives have been working on the case since 2012, but “the ability to bring this case to its next steps in the justice system” is largely because the department had fewer incident calls during the pandemic, said David Singer, a spokesman for the department.

“We are pleased for the Blanchard family and this community that the Grand Jury has indicted these two men for their role in Matthew’s death,” Chief Frank Clark said in the release. “Investigating the death of another human being is a tremendous responsibility. I applaud the diligence of our detectives, as well as the collaboration with our law enforcement partners out of state, for the follow through on this case. The reduction in calls and crime reports that we’ve experienced since the start of the pandemic has allowed for the reallocation of time and investigative resources, ultimately aiding us in being able to hold these violent offenders accountable for their actions. Work on this and other unsolved cases will continue.”

The department now has 13 unsolved homicides in its open case list.

Staff Writers Matt Byrne and Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

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