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.


In the ambulance after the crash, Hayden told an emergency medical technician that he had been a drug addict for a decade and took "Xanax and oxys," according to State Police Trooper Kevin Rooney, who rode in the ambulance with them.

Rooney testified that he heard Hayden say in the ambulance that he had snorted 18 pills while driving before being arrested.

After testimony concluded Friday and after the jury left the courtroom, prosecutors and defense attorneys, in a conversation with Justice Nancy Mills, gave some insight into what their closing arguments might entail.

Marchese said she disliked raising objections during closing arguments, but that she would object if Hayden's attorney, Clifford Strike, used the word "intoxicated" to describe Hayden at the time of the shooting.

"I don't think the defense will be entitled to say 'intoxicated,' " Marchese said.


The judge said she had prepared instructions for the jury explaining the elements of the two murder charges against Hayden and what needs to be considered in determining proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is intoxicated at the time of an offense.

"I'm not going to argue that at 6:40 p.m., my client was bombed out of his head," Strike said. "But there's evidence that the defendant may have been intoxicated at the time of the offense."

After some back and forth, the court agreed to provide Strike with a transcript of exact testimony from Stephen Pierce, a chemist for the state Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory, who analyzed Hayden's blood and urine samples taken when he was hospitalized at Southern Maine Medical Center after his arrest.

The exchange highlights a possible defense argument that an intoxicated defendant could be considered unable to form criminal intention, an element of the charge of murder but not an element of a lesser charge of manslaughter by reckless behavior.

Murder is punishable by 25 years to life in prison. Manslaughter by recklessness is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Multiple witnesses testified that Hayden was a drug addict, including his own mother, Marie Hayden, who testified that her son went back to his hometown of New Bedford in late May or early June 2011 and asked a judge there to have him voluntarily committed for drug treatment. Joel Hayden spent 30 days committed at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts, but got back into drugs after he was released, his mother said.


The state chemist, Pierce, testified that blood and urine samples from the hospital showed Hayden had a high level of oxycodone in his system at the time, a low level of cocaine, but a high level of a chemical left behind when cocaine is metabolized, benzoylecgonine.

Pierce testified that the effects of cocaine are relatively short-lived -- lasting less than half an hour -- and that cocaine can be metabolized in the bloodstream in three to six hours.

After Marchese made her stipulation about the word "intoxicated," another of Hayden's attorneys, Sarah Churchill, asked the judge to limit what the prosecution could say in its final arguments.

Churchill said no evidence was introduced about patterns of domestic violence. She asked the judge to bar prosecutors from saying in closing remarks that there is a cycle of domestic violence and that the level of danger escalates when one of the people in the relationship is about to leave.

Sandora's mother, Patricia Gerber, testified that her daughter had told Hayden to pick up his belongings and leave her home and that Trevor Mills was there to help Hayden leave.

Marchese agreed to Churchill's request and said she did not plan to discuss the cycle of domestic violence in her final arguments.

Strike is slated to make closing arguments first, followed by Marchese. Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber had made opening arguments for the prosecution, and Churchill made opening statements for the defense.

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


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