January 11, 2013

Mother at Hayden murder trial recalls final message from daughter

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND —  Patricia Gerber, the final witness in the murder trial of her daughter’s accused killer, relived her last words with Renee Sandora on Friday, reading aloud their all-day exchange of text messages before the jury.

Testifying in the trial of Joel Hayden, Gerber read her own text messages from July 24 and July 25, 2011, while Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese used a printed transcript to read aloud the corresponding texts from Sandora.

Marchese read Sandora’s final text to her mother, from 6:19 p.m. on July 25, 2011: “It’s fine. I’m leaving.”

Gerber texted her several more times, but she never heard from her daughter again.

At 6:41 that night, Sandora made her final phone call to 911, to report: “My boyfriend just shot me.”

In the same call to a Maine State Police dispatcher, she can be heard yelling to someone: “What are you going to kill me in front of my kids?”

The recorded call then disconnected.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office found that Sandora died of “multiple gunshot wounds,” including a shot that passed through her skull and brain, and out through her jaw on the other side.

Gerber testified on the fifth day of Hayden’s trial in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court. After her testimony, Hayden told Justice Nancy Mills that he would not testify in his own defense. With that, testimony concluded.

Closing arguments are expected Monday morning.

Hayden, 31, is accused of murdering Sandora, 27, the mother of his four children, and his longtime friend Trevor Mills, 28, at Sandora’s home at 322 Bennett Road in New Gloucester.

Police say Hayden shot Mills in the doorway of the mobile home, then shot Sandora in the driveway outside as their 7-year-old son watched.

The sentence for murder in Maine is 25 years to life in prison.

Gerber, 54, lives just two-tenths of a mile from where her daughter lived. She saw her daughter daily and texted with her “constantly,” she said.

Gerber said she saw Sandora just hours before she was shot, when Sandora came to use her mother’s oven because her own wouldn’t work as she prepared a dinner of “hot hot salad” – an oven-baked potato salad – and grilled ribs.

In the days leading up to the shooting, the mother and daughter texted back and forth after Sandora had told Hayden to leave her home.

“He was supposed to pick up his stuff and get out, and Trey (Trevor Mills) was there to help him,” Gerber said.

In separate text messages on the day before the shooting, Sandora said to Gerber:

  • “He’s not fighting with me. He just won’t leave”
  • “I tell him to leave, and he won’t.”
  • “He keeps expecting me to keep giving him a chance. I’m all out of chances.”

Gerber said she has known Hayden for nine years, since her daughter met him in Lewiston. She said she became aware that Hayden had a drug addiction after Sandora had their second child.

Gerber said Hayden’s addiction was one part of the problem in his relationship with Sandora. The other was Hayden’s jealousy, she said.

Gerber said, as an example, that Hayden accused Sandora of having an affair just four days after she delivered their third and fourth children, twin daughters who were born on April 18, 2011, by Caesarean section.

Sandora asked her mother to drive her to a store, and Hayden tried to stop them, Gerber said.

“Joel had a fit and said I was going to bring her so she could meet another man,” she said.

State police Detective Leonard Bolton, a cellphone data specialist, also testified Friday, detailing text messages between Sandora and Mills.

Mills, a friend from Hayden’s hometown of New Bedford, Mass., said around noon on the day before he was shot that he wouldn’t take Hayden back to New Bedford with him.

“I’ll try for you, but I don’t want his headache today. I feel so bad for you, ma,” Mills said in one text.

On Thursday, Hayden’s attorneys called three witnesses in his defense: a state chemist who analyzed Hayden’s blood and urine samples after his arrest, an emergency room physician from Southern Maine Medical Center who saw Hayden after the high-speed crash that led to his arrest, and a physician from Maine Medical Center who saw Hayden regarding his back injury after the crash.

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

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