PORTLAND — It took a jury just over an hour Monday to find Joel Hayden guilty of murdering the mother of his four children and his childhood friend.

Hayden’s son, who was 7 at the time of the shootings in 2011, proved to be the strongest witness against his father.

In emotionally wrenching testimony, the boy had described seeing Hayden shoot Renee Sandora and Trevor Mills at Sandora’s home in New Gloucester.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated through the lunch hour Monday after closing arguments in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court, and returned to the courtroom around 1 p.m. to find Hayden guilty of two counts of murder.

Hayden, 31, will face 25 years to life in prison for each murder when he is sentenced. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for early next month.

Sandora’s mother and stepfather, Patricia and Mark Gerber, embraced after the verdicts were read.


Hayden sat with his back to the spectator seats, surrounded by sheriff’s deputies and judicial marshals, and showed no response to the verdict.

As he was led from the courtroom, Hayden turned to his mother, Marie Hayden, and said, “I love you, ma.”

Marie Hayden, who was in court for every day of the trial, responded, “I love you too.”

Hayden shot Mills, 28, in the front doorway of Sandora’s home at 322 Bennett Road in New Gloucester, then shot her in the driveway.

The shootings occurred on July 25, 2011, the day Hayden was supposed to move out of the mobile home because Sandora had told him to leave.

Mills, who was from Hayden’s hometown of New Bedford, Mass., was there to help Hayden move out, according to testimony in the trial.


Both victims died at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston a day after the shootings.

In the trial that started last week, the first two witnesses delivered what one of Hayden’s attorneys, Clifford Strike, considered the strongest evidence against him.

A Maine State Police dispatcher recounted taking the 911 call from Sandora around 6:41 p.m., after she had been shot once.

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

Shortly thereafter, the phone call disconnected.


Hayden’s son, now 8, was the second witness, testifying that he saw Mills “go through the glass” of the door of Sandora’s home, where police say he was shot four times.

The boy testified that his father then “went outside and he shot my mom.”

In her closing argument, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said, “He basically executed both of them.”

Since that night, all four children of Sandora and Hayden have been raised by her mother and stepfather, who live two-tenths of a mile up Bennett Road from where she was killed.

“We’re very pleased justice has been served, and we’d like to get on with the business of raising our family,” Mark Gerber said outside the courthouse Monday, with Sandora’s mother at his side. “We’re doing really well, every day getting better. We look forward to the next 25 years.”

Patricia Gerber was the final witness in the trial, piecing together the last days of her daughter’s life through a written dialogue they created by “constantly” text messaging.


Strike said in his closing argument that blood and urine samples taken from Hayden after his arrest showed that he had marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone and hydrocodone in his system.

Strike said Hayden may have been “feelings the effects of these drugs from 3 p.m.” on the day of the murders until his arrest around 9 p.m., after a high-speed chase ended with Hayden crashing in York County.

“There is no doubt that Mr. Hayden had a significant amount of drugs in his system,” Strike said.

His argument came after Justice Nancy Mills gave the jury specific instructions about the charges against Hayden — two counts of murder — and a legal definition of intoxication.

The jury could have found Hayden guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter if it had found that Hayden was too intoxicated to form the intent required as a legal element of murder.

Outside the courthouse, reporters asked Strike if he was disappointed that the jury reached its verdict after just an hour and quarter of deliberation.


“We were disappointed, yes. But were we surprised by the length of the deliberation? No,” Strike said.

Strike said he expects to appeal the conviction but will leave that decision to Hayden.

“You cannot bring an appeal until sentencing has been imposed, and that probably won’t happen until the first week of February,” he said.

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

[email protected]

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