Joel Hayden’s convictions should be reduced because he was ‘likely loaded’ on drugs, his attorney says.

An attorney for Joel Hayden told the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday that Hayden was “likely loaded with a cornucopia of illegal and highly potent medication” when he fatally shot his childhood friend and the mother of his four children, so he should have been convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.

Clifford Strike also argued that the judge who sentenced Hayden last year for two counts of murder unfairly used Hayden’s decision to stand trial against him in giving him to two life terms in prison.

Hayden, 32, was convicted after a trial in which his son, who was 7 at the time of the killings in 2011, was called by the prosecution to testify.

The boy was the key witness against his father, describing seeing Hayden shoot his mother, Renee Sandora, and his friend Trevor Mills at Sandora’s home in New Gloucester.

Under questioning by a panel of six of the supreme court’s justices, Strike defended Hayden’s decision to go to trial because he had “nothing to lose,” since the only plea offers he got from prosecutors were equivalent to a life sentence.


“I think, quite frankly, that it was in my client’s mind that they didn’t need to put his son on the stand,” Strike said.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley was the first to question Strike, saying that Hayden made a decision to put his son in that position.

“The decision to put the state to its proof put his son through what the trial judge concluded was the nightmare of having to relive, in front of adults and the jury and under cross-examination, the horror of watching him having killed another human being,” Saufley said.

Each of the other justices followed with their own questions, most focusing on Strike’s argument that Hayden’s sentence of two life terms was not warranted.

“Could anything other than two life sentences have been imposed in this case?” asked Justice Ellen Gorman.

Gorman listed reasons to sentence Hayden to life: his extensive criminal record, evidence that the murders were premeditated, his extreme cruelty, the fact that he was a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, and the fact that children were there when he committed what she called “these heinous acts.”


A prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, argued for Hayden’s convictions and sentence to be upheld.

“He killed two people with premeditation in front of a child,” Macomber said.

Macomber argued that Hayden couldn’t have been so intoxicated by the oxycodone and cocaine in his system that he didn’t know what he was doing.

Hayden loaded a handgun, reloaded the gun and then fled from the scene of the murders in Mills’ Cadillac before being arrested after a high-speed chase, Macomber said.

Hayden’s eldest son, Ja’kai, who testified against him, is now living with Sandora’s mother and stepfather, Patricia and Mark Gerber, along with Sandora and Hayden’s three other children.

Patricia Gerber attended the oral arguments Wednesday with family members, but said she didn’t tell the children that Hayden’s appeal was being heard.


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 been shot once.

On a recording of the call, Sandora was 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 was heard saying to someone: “What, are you going to kill me in front of my kids?”

Shortly thereafter, the call disconnected.

Ja’kai 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.”

The justices made no immediate ruling on Hayden’s appeal and gave no indication of when they will issue a decision.

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

Twitter: @scottddolan

This article was updated at 8:04 a.m. Thursday, January 16, 2014 to correct the spelling of Judge Ellen Gorman’s name.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.