PORTLAND — The judge who gave Joel Hayden two life sentences Tuesday spent more time explaining his punishment than a jury spent finding him guilty of murder.
Hayden, 31, was convicted last month of two counts of murder for shooting Renee Sandora, the mother of his four children, and his friend Trevor Mills on July 25, 2011, at Sandora’s home in New Gloucester.
The murders happened while Hayden’s then-7-year-old son watched.
“The evidence in this case was overwhelming, yet you forced your own son to testify against his father in a courtroom packed with strangers,” Justice Nancy Mills said to Hayden before announcing the concurrent life sentences.
The judge noted that after the boy finished testifying about watching his father shoot his mother, Hayden called out to him, saying, “Daddy loves you.”
“I can only suggest that your actions speak louder than words,” Mills said to Hayden.
The judge delivered the sentences after hearing statements from family members and friends of Sandora, who was 27, and Trevor Mills, of New Bedford, Mass., who was 28. Other friends submitted letters for the judge to read in considering her sentence.
Sandora’s mother, Patricia Gerber, and stepfather, Mark Gerber, took in Sandora’s four children after her death. They have since been raising them like their own, they said.
Mark Gerber said he can’t imagine the horror that Hayden’s son, who’s now 8, must relive after seeing his father shoot his mother. He said the boy, the oldest of the four children, has been getting counseling since then and does well in school.
“He’s a brave and special boy. He prays to God to bless his mother every night,” Mark Gerber said.
Patricia Gerber said she’s a good mother to the children, but she can’t replace their own mother.
“When Joel took my daughter’s life, he had no idea what he took from me,” she said. “He not only took my daughter, he took my best friend.”
Trevor Mills’ mother, Eleanor Mills, said she hasn’t had time to mourn her son’s death, and has been focused on trying to hold her family together without him.
“We were very close. And when he was murdered, part of me was murdered, part of my family was murdered,” she said. “It just hurts me, and I ask why.”
She looked directly at Hayden as she spoke. Hayden looked back at her.
“I wonder sometimes how Mr. Hayden feels, if he has a heart,” she said.
Sandora’s best friend, Amanda Moon, said Sandora stayed with Hayden despite his drug addiction and paranoia because she thought she could “save him” and help him get sober.
“He would keep her up for days with accusations that she was unfaithful to him, when we all know he was the one running around,” Moon said. “It tears me apart that I let that coward come between us.”
During Hayden’s trial in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court, witnesses said Sandora had told Hayden to move out of her home days before the shooting, that she had had enough of his drug use, and that Hayden’s best friend, Trevor Mills, had driven up from Massachusetts to help with the move.
Hayden shot his friend four times, leaving him to die in the doorway of Sandora’s home on Bennett Road. Sandora was shot once before she called 911, then was shot in the head at point-blank range, witnesses and prosecutors have said.
Hayden fled in Trevor Mills’ Cadillac and was arrested after a high-speed chase with police that ended when he crashed the car in York County.
Blood and urine samples taken after the crash showed Hayden had marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone and hydrocodone in his system, according to trial testimony. The .45-caliber pistol that was used in the shootings was never found.
The jury needed just over an hour on Jan. 14 to find Hayden guilty.
The prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office, Lisa Marchese and Donald Macomber, requested that Hayden be sentenced to 70 years to life in prison.
Hayden’s attorneys, Clifford Strike and Sarah Churchill, sought a sentence of 50 years. They said Tuesday that they plan to appeal his conviction.
Justice Mills imposed the harshest sentence possible under state law. She said the murders were premeditated and showed extreme cruelty, especially in the case of Sandora, who was outside her home with her children, making a 911 call and unable to escape.
“She was aware of her impending death,” the judge said. “Her fears for herself and her children are unimaginable.”
The judge said Hayden showed a “hostile, unstable character,” retaliating against potential witnesses in the case, breaking a witness’ hand and having another beaten and threatened in jail.
“The likelihood that Mr. Hayden would commit more offenses if released is overwhelming,” she said. “Society does not have the ability currently to rehabilitate the mindset he brings here today.”
Hayden declined to speak during the sentencing. For each day of his trial, he wore a shirt and a tie. For Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, he wore a baggy yellow prison uniform, and a rosary around his neck.
As sheriff’s deputies led him from the courtroom, Hayden turned toward the spectator section, where his mother and his victims’ friends and families sat, and called out over his shoulder, “Pray for me like I pray for you all, alright?”
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: