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Mass. man found guilty of double murder in death of mother of his children, friend

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Defendant Joel Hayden speaks with his lawyers before opening arguments in his double murder trial in Portland on Monday Jan. 7, 2013. Hayden, of New Bedford, Mass., is accused in the shooting deaths of his girlfriend, Renee Sandora, 27, and his longtime friend, Trevor Mills, 28.
By Sun Journal

PORTLAND, Maine — A Massachusetts man was convicted Monday of two counts of premeditated murder in the 2011 shooting deaths of two of his closest friends.

A Cumberland County Superior Court jury deliberated for just over an hour before finding Joel Hayden, 30, of New Bedford, guilty of murder in the deaths of 27-year-old Renee Sandora of New Gloucester and Trevor Mills, 28, also of New Bedford.

Sandora was Hayden’s former girlfriend and the mother of his four children, and Mills was a longtime friend.

According to police, Hayden shot the pair outside Sandora’s home, with Sandora and Hayden’s 7-year-old son witnessing the shootings. The two died at Central Maine Medical Center the next day.

Immediately after the shooting, Hayden and Sandora’s children were placed in the custody of Sandora’s grandparents.

In court Monday, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese presented closing arguments, telling the six men and six women who comprise the jury that “there is no question who killed Renee Sandora.”

Summarizing testimony offered last week, Marchese reminded the jury that the couple’s son testified there was no one else at the house that day other than Hayden and the two shooting victims. And, according to Marchese, Hayden’s cell phone records show he was in that area at that time.

“The evidence is simply overwhelming,” she said.

Marchese also reminded the jury that the couple’s son also testified that he saw his father shoot his mother, Sandora, on July 25, 2011 at their home at 322 Bennett Road in New Gloucester.

She reminded the jury that Sandora was on a 911 call when she told the dispatcher that Hayden had shot her and was asking him whether he was going to kill her in front of their children.

And, Marchese also reminded the jury before it began deliberations, a neighbor told police someone fitting Hayden’s description had sped off from the crime scene in a black car. He would later lead police on a high speed chase in that car, before being arrested at gunpoint in Lyman.

Portland attorney Clifford Strike, one of Hayden’s defense attorneys, told the jury in his closing arguments that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that Hayden had acted with premeditation, as Marchese had suggested.

He also said there was no evidence Hayden had reloaded a .45 caliber

handgun during the fatal shootings that left four bullet holes in

Trevor Mills and two in Sandora, including execution-style head shots

to both victims.

Nine shell casings were found at the scene. No gun was recovered.

And, Strike called “patently absurd” Marchese’s theory that Hayden had snorted pain pills after the shootings while he was leading police on a car chase.

In his closing remarks to the jury, the defense attorney was also pointed out inconsistent testimony among Maine State Police troopers who responded to the crime scene.

An affidavit filed by police with the court says Sandora’s parents told investigators Sandora had recently kicked Hayden out of their home, and that he had accused her of having a relationship with Mills.

Jury selection began Jan. 4, and testimony in the case was presented all last week.

Hayden, with reported gang affiliations and multiple criminal convictions for drug possession, has 16 prior criminal convictions in New Bedford, including an arrest for a 2005 drive-by shooting that wounded a man in the North End.

Superior Court records indicate Mills was sentenced to serve three years in state prison after pleading guilty to discharging a firearm and other gun offenses in October 2007.

In January 2004, Hayden was charged with shooting his mother’s boyfriend during a domestic argument in New Bedford and was later arrested by federal agents in Lewiston. He was charged by Massachusetts authorities with aggravated assault and attempted murder in that case. Last August, New Bedford police arrested Hayden on charges of threatening to cut the same man with a glass jug.

According to the Standard-Times, the victim said Hayden told him, “I should have killed you when I had the chance.” However, the case was later dismissed on a probation officer’s recommendation, court records show.

In 2006, while Hayden was serving nine months in a Maine jail for drug offenses and eluding police during a car chase, he was charged with trafficking in prison contraband, drug dealing and carrying a concealed weapon. The charge of carrying a concealed weapon was later dismissed.

Hayden and Mills were together in 2001, according to Hayden’s mother, Marie Hayden, when they were each attacked and stabbed in New Bedford.

Hayden faces up to 60 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.

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