June 25, 2018
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State supreme court upholds convictions of 2 murderers

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the convictions of two men convicted of murder in separate cases.

Justices affirmed the twin murder convictions of Joel A. Hayden, 33, of New Bedford, Mass., in the deaths of Renee Sandora, 27, of New Gloucester, the mother of Hayden’s children, and her friend, Trevor Mills, 28, of New Bedford, Mass. The state’s high court also upheld Hayden’s two life sentences.

The court upheld the September 2012 conviction of Jay. A. Mercier, 58, of Industry in Somerset County Superior Court for the July 4, 1980, murder of 20-year-old Rita St. Peter of Anson, a young mother whose battered body was found off Campground Road in North Anson the next day. Mercier was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

The Maine supreme court heard oral arguments in both cases last month at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Hayden’s attorney, Clifford Strike of Portland, argued that his client’s mental capacity was so diminished by the illegal drugs he consumed before the slayings in New Gloucester that he didn’t have the awareness to know what he was doing and that he didn’t intend to do it, according to a previously published report. The jury should have found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, the lawyer said.

“Evidence of intoxication may raise a reasonable doubt as to the existence of a required culpable state of mind,” Justice Andrew Mead wrote for the court in a 14-page opinion. “But when a defendant presents evidence of voluntary intoxication — as opposed to involuntary intoxication — the state is not required to disprove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Instead, evidence of intoxication is merely a factor to be considered alongside other evidence relevant to the defendant’s state of mind,” he said. “In this case, the jury was free to, and did, reject Hayden’s theory that his state of mind was affected by his drug use.”

The justices also found that the two life sentences imposed by Maine Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills, who is not related to the victim Mills, were not based on Hayden’s decision to have a jury trial.

“We find no likelihood that the court impermissibly or unconstitutionally imposed a sentence that was more severe based upon Hayden’s exercise of his right to trial,” Mead wrote.

In Mercier’s case, justices rejected the argument of his appellate attorney Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor that the testimony of Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Margaret Greenwald violated the confrontation clause, or 14th Amendment, to the U.S. Constitution. Greenwald testified about St. Peter’s injuries and her cause of death instead of the medical examiner who performed St. Peter’s autopsy in 1980.

Why the retired medical examiner was not called has not been made public.

“The admission of the testimony of a medical examiner who relies in part on information obtained as a result of an autopsy or contained in an autopsy report completed by a non-testifying medical examiner is not a violation of the confrontation clause,” Justice Ellen Gorman wrote for the majority in a nine-page opinion.


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