Sabattus man who killed woman during custody dispute denied new murder trial

Posted Dec. 26, 2012, at 9:50 a.m.

AUBURN — A judge denied a bid for a new trial by a Sabattus man sentenced to 55 years in prison for killing his ex-girlfriend and the mother of their 2-year-old daughter seven years ago.

Daniel Roberts, 43, petitioned Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler for a new trial or to send the case back to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a second look on appeal.

Roberts appeared in Lewiston District Court a year ago for an evidentiary hearing on his 2009 amended petition for a post-conviction review.

Roberts shot to death Melissa Mendoza, 29, of California in his garage on Aug. 15, 2005. The couple were embroiled in a custody dispute over their daughter, Savanna, 2 years old at the time of the shooting.

Roberts claimed the shooting was self-defense. Prosecutors said he had lain in wait for her.

Attorney Rosemary Curran Scapicchio of Boston argued Roberts’ petition, presenting witnesses who gave testimony.

Justice Wheeler, who presided over Roberts’ three-week trial in Androscoggin County Superior Court in 2007, heard arguments on his petition before issuing earlier this year her ruling in a 46-page decision and order.

In it, Wheeler addressed Roberts’ six points outlined in his amended petition claiming violations of his constitutional rights.

They were:

– Right to a public trial.

– Right to freedom of association.

– Due process and fair trial rights.

– Ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

– Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.

– Right to due process and fair trial due to cumulative impact of errors.

Scapicchio argued that she questioned whether Roberts’ constitutional right to a proper trial was violated because members of the public were kept out of the courtroom during testimonial portions of the trial, as well as during the reading of the verdict. She presented several witnesses who testified they were kept from the courtroom during trial testimony and that the courthouse doors were locked shortly before the jury presented its verdict.

Also at trial, members of the public were barred from the courtroom if they displayed motorcycle gang colors or wore otherwise objectionable clothing. Roberts had been a member of a motorcycle gang.

Roberts also claimed he was excluded from many pretrial decisions regarding such matters as the admissibility of evidence and jury instruction.

Through Scapicchio, Roberts questioned the effectiveness of his trial and appellate lawyers.

She said his attorney failed to raise objections at significant times during trial and that he failed to withdraw as legal counsel due to a conflict of interest.

Roberts’ attorney who argued his appeal before the state’s high court should have raised a claim regarding the admission of cumulative and prejudicial evidence of Mendoza’s state of mind and he should have raised other violations of Roberts’ constitutional rights, Scapicchio argued. Also, his appellate attorney should have raised federal constitutional issues, she argued.

Scapicchio responded to Wheeler’s denial by filing a motion seeking reconsideration. So-called Rule 50 of the Maine Criminal Procedures would have the judge correct an oversight or omission in her decision. Scapicchio wrote that Wheeler overlooked issues raised in Roberts’ original petition for post-conviction review that he had drafted before his attorney changed and added to it.

Wheeler hadn’t responded to that motion.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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