January 13, 2013

Hayden trial to wrap up after week of drama

Requests about references to intoxication and abuse hint at what closing arguments may entail.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday morning in the murder trial of Joel Hayden, accused of fatally shooting both the mother of his four children and one of his longtime friends as Hayden's eldest son, then 7 years old, watched in shock.

click image to enlarge

Joel Hayden arrives in court at the start of his murder trial in Portland last Monday.

Pool photo/Troy Bennett


The two lead prosecutors in the Joel Hayden murder trial, assistant attorneys general Lisa Marchese and Donald Macomber, have more than 50 years of combined experience between them, with Marchese starting as a prosecutor in 1986 and Macomber in 1989.

Marchese is one of the more prominent, criminal-trial attorneys in the Attorney General’s Office, often assigned to high-profile cases. She has personally prosecuted more than 60 murder trials in her career.

Macomber has prosecuted about 20 murder trials, but his specialty is appeals work. In his career, he has fought to uphold convictions in about 105 murder appeals.


Joel Hayden’s defense team is led by two well-known names in Maine’s legal community, attorneys Clifford Strike and Sarah Churchill.

Strike, of the Portland law firm Strike, Goodwin and O’Brien, has handled more than a dozen murder cases. After years in the business community, Strike switched careers upon becoming a lawyer in 1996. He worked first for the York County District Attorney’s Office before going into private practice in 1997. He is recognizable by his three-piece suit and cowboy boots, cross-examining witnesses with a pen in his raised right hand.

Churchill, 35, started her career working with Strike at his firm, first as a law clerk in 2000, before becoming a lawyer herself in 2002. She and Strike have worked side by side over the years, defending clients as a team in more than 10 cases.

Churchill’s name has earned national attention in the past year for representing Alexis Wright, the former Zumba instructor and key defendant in the Kennebunk prostitution scandal. She recently joined another law firm - Nichols, Webb and Loranger, but she and Strike continue to work on cases together.

The trial has included the boy's testimony against his father; video of the high-speed police chase leading to Hayden's arrest; a key witness beaten in the same jail pod as Hayden in Portland and threatened to deter him from testifying; mothers' testimony, and text message trails from the victims themselves.

Hayden, 31, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Renee Sandora, 27, and his childhood friend, Trevor Mills, 28, of New Bedford, Mass., at Sandora's home at 322 Bennett Road in New Gloucester on July 25, 2011.

Since the trial began Monday, testimony each day drew a crowd of spectators that has included the family and friends of Hayden, Sandora and Mills; members of the media; law students; curious lawyers and investigators; and briefly even another judge dressed in plain clothes.

Evidence introduced during witness testimony was often dramatic, starting with a 911 recording of a phone call by Sandora at 6:41 p.m., around the time she was fatally shot.

She could be heard on the recording 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 same call, she can be heard saying to someone, "What, are you going to kill me in front of my kids?" Shortly thereafter, the phone call disconnected.


The eldest son of Hayden and Sandora, now 8 and in third grade, testified next that he was standing outside his home, near his mother, who was in the driveway, and near where his younger siblings sat strapped into the back seat of a car. He said he saw Mills "go through the glass" of the door to the house.

Police later testified that they found Mills there, half in the house and half out the doorway with four gunshot wounds. Nine .45-caliber shell casings were left behind, three inside the house and six outside.

One prosecutor in the case, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, asked the boy what his father did after Mills went through the glass.

"He went outside and he shot my mom," the boy said, then audibly exhaled and looked down at the stand.

Police later found Sandora lying in the driveway, shot in the head, belly and arm. A medical examiner testified that Sandora had burnt gunpowder marks on the side of her head through her hair, which a firearms expert testified meant she was shot at point-blank range.

Police officers, however, testified that the gun used in the shootings was never recovered.

Despite being beaten and threatened in jail, where he is serving time on a burglary charge, Hayden's auto mechanic, John Michaud, testified that he had been with Hayden within two weeks before the shooting to test fire a .45-caliber handgun in a sand pit near Sandora's home.

Hayden was arrested the same night as the shooting after a high-speed chase, which State Police Trooper Roger Teachout described from the witness stand as a video recording taken from his cruiser's on-board camera played on the screen for the jury to watch.

The chase lasted nine to 10 miles, passed through five towns and reached speeds of more than 100 mph, including one point when the black Cadillac DeVille that Hayden was driving out-accelerated Teachout's cruiser after being rammed. The chase came to a tire-squealing end, with Hayden braking suddenly, veering to the left and crashing into a ditch in the parking lot of Hawg Heaven at routes 5 and 202 near the Waterboro/Lyman town line.

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