PORTLAND — A Sabattus man who killed his ex-girlfriend at his home in 2005 cleared the first hurdle in his bid for a new trial.

Daniel Roberts failed in his effort to seek a new trial when his trial judge ruled last summer that his constitutional rights had not been violated following a hearing on his petition for post-conviction review.

Roberts’ attorney, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, had argued in an amended petition that his trial was flawed because his following constitutional protections had been violated:

* Right to a public trial;

* Right to freedom of association;

* Due process and fair trial rights;


* Ineffective assistance of trial counsel;

* Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; and

* Right to due process and fair trial due to cumulative impact of errors.

Roberts appealed Justice Joyce Wheeler’s decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. That court decided earlier this month that it would hear arguments on appeal on two issues raised at his post-conviction hearing. They are whether the post-conviction court erred in determining that:

* The underlying criminal court didn’t violate Roberts’ right to a public trial when it closed a portion of the jury selection proceedings prior to trial, and

* There was no closure of the courtroom during the murder trial.


Roberts is asking the high court to vacate his conviction based on those two issues. If that court were to agree with him, it could send the case back to Androscoggin County Superior Court for a new trial.

Prosecutors at the Maine Attorney General’s Office are expected to argue before the high court against the two claims. They said Roberts had requested that individual jury selection proceedings be held in the trial judge’s chambers, out of earshot of the rest of the prospective jurors. And they said the judge closed the courtroom during some witness testimony in an effort to lessen distractions to jurors.

This was the second time Roberts had appealed to the state’s highest court. Unlike in his direct appeal in 2008, following his conviction and sentencing, the high court this time determined that he showed probable cause that there were two grounds to vacate his conviction.

Roberts shot to death Melissa Mendoza, 29, of California, in his garage on Aug. 15, 2005. The couple were embroiled in a custody dispute over their daughter, Savanna, 2 years old at the time of the shooting.

Roberts claimed the shooting was self-defense. But a jury agreed with prosecutors, who said Roberts had lain in wait for Mendoza.

Wheeler sentenced Roberts to 55 years in prison.

Wheeler, who presided over Roberts’ three-week trial in Androscoggin County Superior Court in 2007, heard arguments on his petition in 2011 before issuing her ruling.


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