Judge says she won’t step down in murder case

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AUBURN – A judge has refused to step aside in the case of a Sabattus man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend.

Daniel Roberts, 36, filed a pretrial motion in Androscoggin County Superior Court asking that Justice Joyce Wheeler recuse herself because she may be biased.

Roberts’ lawyer, Leonard Sharon, argued that Wheeler has a long history of advocating for victims of domestic violence. He wrote in court papers that, during Roberts’ bail hearing, the judge “indicated that she did not believe the defendant’s version of events and that he had lied to the police.”

In a court order, Wheeler rejected the defendant’s motion. “This trial judge concludes that there is no reasonable basis for Roberts’ motion and she is obligated not to recuse herself.”

Just because she was active in working to streamline the process of hearing domestic violence cases in Maine’s District Courts where she worked for more than a decade doesn’t mean she is prejudiced, Wheeler said.

She wrote that Roberts’ argument “discloses a misunderstanding of the court system’s improvements over the last several years for management of cases involving claims of domestic violence.”

The suggestion that her past actions have “compromised her ability and impartiality to decide issues involving domestic violence is absurd and must be rejected,” she wrote.

Roberts admits killing Melissa Mendoza, 29, with a gunshot to the back of her head. He claims she had come to his home to kill him and he was simply defending himself and their 2-year-old daughter, Savannah Marie Roberts. The two had been embroiled in a custody dispute.

He has been held without bail at Androscoggin County Superior Court since his arrest in December.

Sharon could not be reached for comment Friday.

At the time he filed the motion, Sharon said he was uncertain whether he would have to wait for a verdict in the case before filing an appeal of Wheeler’s order to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Wheeler did grant several other motions filed by Roberts.

She granted Roberts’ request for access to evidence seized by investigators and permission to file additional motions before trial.

She approved state prosecutors’ motions to gain access to experts likely to testify at the trial for the defense and to allow the jury to view the scene of the alleged crime.

Roberts had asked for transcripts of grand jury testimony. Wheeler said she would review those transcripts before deciding whether to turn them over to the defense.

As for Roberts’ requests to move the trial out of town and to throw out the murder indictment, Wheeler said she would give the state three weeks to respond to the motion before making her decision.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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