AUBURN – The judge who sentenced Daniel Roberts to 55 years in prison Friday told him his deadly gunshot to the back of his ex-girlfriend’s head two years ago during a custody dispute had an “enormous impact on a very large number of people.”

But Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler appeared to be most concerned about the children.

In murdering 29-year-old Melissa Mendoza, Roberts, 37, had not only taken a life, he also had denied three children the chance to ever hug, kiss or tell their mother they loved her. More important, they would never be able to again hear those words uttered to them by their mother.

From the many letters written by Mendoza’s family and friends describing a world without her, Wheeler chose to read in open court two letters as Roberts sat awaiting his sentence.

One of the letters, penned by Mendoza’s oldest daughter, Priscilla, asked the question of Roberts, “Why would he do such a thing to a parent with three children at home?”

Calling the killing an “unprovoked, vicious and brutal act,” Wheeler said the jury that convicted him in February could have decided Roberts had planned to kill Mendoza because he was angry that she had defied him by taking their 2-year-old daughter to California without permission. He spent $15,000 on the girl’s return. In order to regain control of his daughter and her mother, he decided to kill Melissa Mendoza.

Wheeler said the evidence showed that Roberts had lain in wait for Mendoza shortly before 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15, 2005, at his Sabattus home.

He stood in the dark, barefoot with a loaded pistol behind the garage door he knew she would be walking through shortly, having invited her to his home.

Their daughter, Savanna, slept nearby in a bedroom of the attached house.

After shooting her at close range in the back of the head, he staged a crime scene, positioning another of his loaded pistols next to her body.

Roberts claimed Mendoza had threatened to kill Savanna, a story Wheeler called “incredible,” given the lengths Mendoza had gone through to be with her child.

Despite the “monstrous” nature of the crime, Wheeler said it didn’t rise to the level of meriting a life sentence, something Deputy Attorney General William Stokes had been seeking Friday.

Only the more heinous of murders fall into that category, Wheeler said. But because the act was premeditated, she would impose a sentence of at least 50 years. After weighing good and bad points, including Roberts’ pattern of behavior, she added five years.

Although his criminal record was minimal and he had plenty of support from family and friends, he refused to admit to all his actions and take complete responsibility, showing some remorse only shortly before she imposed his sentence, she said.

‘Self-defense’

Roberts, who declined to testify during the trial, stood at a lectern before the judge Friday. Sniffing and choking back tears, then pausing to regain his composure, he read a statement.

He apologized to Mendoza’s family for taking her life and causing them pain, yet he maintained he acted all along to save their daughter.

“From the very beginning, I believed I acted in self-defense,” he said. He shifted the blame, in part, to Mendoza, saying he should have done more for her after he realized she was in “deep trouble,” due to her alleged use of alcohol and drugs.

“But I was too self-centered, and for that I am deeply sorry,” he said.

Roberts was dressed in a taupe suit and plum-colored shirt, his head shaved and his hands cuffed when Wheeler read his sentence. He showed little expression. His attorney, Leonard Sharon, said afterward that Roberts and his defense team were already focused on his appeal.

As he was led away by uniformed guards, several of the more than two-dozen supporters packing the courtroom shouted: “We love you, Danny.”

“I’m not surprised by it, but I’m devastated by it,” Sharon said of the sentence, adding Roberts was also.

He said Roberts would appeal both conviction and sentence on various grounds: the conviction on improper jury selection and Wheeler’s refusal to allow a hearing on whether she was biased based on her earlier work as an “advocate for victims of domestic violence.”

Sharon argued in court Friday that many of the letters passed along to Wheeler, including two read by Stokes on Friday, were improper and might have unfairly prejudiced the judge, thereby possibly skewing the sentence.

Stokes said after sentencing that the family, whom he had just talked to by telephone, was pleased with the outcome. Savanna now lives there with them. Family members, who sat through the three-week trial, didn’t leave their California home this time to attend the sentencing because it had caused an emotional hardship the last time they visited the Twin Cities. They had sat through days of listening to defense witnesses describe Mendoza as someone who was crazy with jealousy, out of control and violent. Instead, a local television station streamed the proceedings live over its Web site so the family could watch in real time.

“It’s been an ordeal for them,” Stokes said. “They are very pleased that justice has been done.”

Although he had argued for a life sentence, Stokes said that 55 years, even after time off for good behavior and the 19 months Roberts has already served, “will keep him in jail really until he’s a very old man.”


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