The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear an appeal Wednesday from a man convicted of murder nearly a year ago for shooting to death his childhood friend and the mother of his four children.
Joel Hayden, 32, was convicted after a jury trial in which his son, who was 7 years old at the time of the killings in 2011, testified against him.
Without looking once at his father in the courtroom, the boy was the most powerful witness against his father, describing seeing Hayden shoot his mother, Renee Sandora, and his friend Trevor Mills at Sandora’s home in New Gloucester.
Hayden is arguing in the appeal filed by his attorneys, Clifford Strike and Sarah Churchill, that the evidence presented at trial was only enough to convict him 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 whether he could have the necessary state of mind for a murder conviction, Strike said in a written brief filed in support of the appeal. To prove murder, prosecutors had to show Hayden acted intentionally or knowingly.
The Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on his appeal Wednesday afternoon.
Hayden’s eldest son, Ja’kai, who testified against him, is now being raised by Sandora’s mother and stepfather, Patricia and Mark Gerber, along with Sandora and Hayden’s three other children. They live one-fifth of a mile up the road from where the shootings took place.
Patricia Gerber said she and other family members will attend the oral arguments, but she has not told any of the children about it.
“It feels like it’s never, ever going to be over. It’s always something,” she said.
Gerber said that a year after the trial and 2½ years after the shooting, Ja’kai’s nightmares have subsided and he doesn’t seem to dwell often on the horrors he witnessed.
“He’s happy. He doesn’t talk about it,” she said. But “a few weeks ago, he was talking about people playing video games and all the shooting. I told him other kids didn’t see the things he did. And he said, ‘I still see it in my head sometimes.’”
While Hayden’s attorneys argue in the appeal that the evidence shown at trial was enough to support a manslaughter conviction, Hayden contends in an online profile for a prisoner pen pal program that he was framed for both murders.
“I got setup for a crime I didn’t commit. The truth will set me free; I will leave everything in the Gods hands until my future appeal processes,” Hayden says in his profile on www.writeaprisoner.com.
Adam Lovell, the president and owner of the website, said his company tracks which profiles are written by the inmates themselves, but he does not disclose that information.
“A lot of them are written by friends and family. You can sometimes tell, and you sometimes can’t,” Lovell said of the inmate profiles.
Prosecutors maintain that the evidence shown during Hayden’s weeklong trial last January was sufficient to convict him of murder and the two life sentences were justified.
“Hayden was insanely jealous of Renee Sandora despite the fact that she gave him no reason to be so,” 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 in the trial.
A Maine State Police dispatcher testified about the 911 call 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 thereafter, the call disconnected.
Ja’kai, now 9, testified that he saw Mills “go through the glass” of the door of Sandora’s home.
The boy testified that his father then “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 victims died at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston the next day.
Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at: