February 25

Convictions in double slaying affirmed by Maine’s highest court

Justices discount a loaded-on-drugs claim and deny Joel Hayden’s appeal in the shootings of his friend and the mother of his four children, one of whom witnessed the killings.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday denied an appeal by convicted murderer Joel Hayden, who sought to have his convictions reduced to manslaughter because he was “likely loaded” on drugs when he killed both the mother of his four children and his childhood friend.

click image to enlarge

Joel Hayden listens to comments from the families of Renee Sandora and Trevor Mills at his sentencing hearing on Feb. 5, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

Last year, a jury found Hayden, 32, guilty on two counts of murder after a trial at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland in which his son, who was 7 years old at the time of the killings, testified against him.

The boy was the most powerful witness against his father, as he described seeing Hayden shoot his mother, Renee Sandora, and Hayden’s friend Trevor Mills at Sandora’s home in New Gloucester.

Hayden’s attorney, Clifford Strike, argued in the appeal that the evidence presented at trial was only enough to convict Hayden of manslaughter, not murder, and that the trial judge erred in sentencing him to two life terms.

He was “under the influence of a high dose of oxycodone and cocaine on the day of the shooting,” leading to doubts about whether he could have the necessary state of mind for a murder conviction, Strike said in a written appeal brief. To prove murder, prosecutors had to show Hayden acted intentionally or knowingly.

The Supreme Judicial Court reached its unanimous decision just over a month after hearing oral arguments.

“Because we conclude that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find all the elements of the crime charged, and that the sentencing court neither misapplied sentencing principles nor abused its discretion, we affirm the judgment and the sentence,” the court said in its decision, written by Justice Andrew Mead.

Prosecutors maintained that the evidence presented during Hayden’s weeklong trial last January was sufficient to convict him of murder, and that the two life sentences were justified.

“Hayden was insanely jealous of Renee Sandora despite the fact that she gave him no reason to be,” Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said in a written brief filed with the Supreme Judicial Court. “Hayden told a drug customer the day before the murders that he was ‘going to kill that bitch and get his boy too.’ In the days before the murders, Hayden, a convicted felon, was target practicing with his Colt .45 handgun.”

Evidence and testimony at trial showed that Hayden shot Mills, 28, four times with a .45-caliber handgun in the doorway of Sandora’s home at 322 Bennett Road in New Gloucester. He then shot Sandora, 27, in the head at point-blank range as she stood in the driveway.

The shootings occurred on July 25, 2011, the day Hayden was supposed to move out of the home because Sandora had told him to leave. Mills, who was from Hayden’s hometown of New Bedford, Mass., was there to help him move out, according to testimony at the trial.

A Maine State Police dispatcher testified about the 911 call that Sandora made around 6:41 p.m., after she had already been shot once.

On a recording of the call, Sandora could be heard saying: “My boyfriend just shot me. I am at 322 Bennett Road. He shot his friend, too. I’ve got four kids.”

Later in the call, she could be heard saying to someone: “What, are you going to kill me in front of my kids?”

Shortly after, the call disconnected.

Hayden’s eldest son, Ja’kai, now 9, testified at the trial that he saw Mills “go through the glass” in the door of Sandora’s home, then his father “went outside and he shot my mom.”

Hayden was arrested the day of the shootings after leading police on a high-speed chase that ended when he crashed Mills’ Cadillac DeVille in Lyman.

Both shooting victims died at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston the next day.

Ja’kai is now being raised by Sandora’s mother and stepfather, Patricia and Mark Gerber, along with Sandora’s and Hayden’s three other children. They live one-fifth of a mile up the road from where the shootings took place.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan

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