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Daniel Roberts convicted of murdering ex-girlfriend

AUBURN, Maine --An Androscoggin County jury on Tuesday returned a guilty verdict against a Sabattus man who shot his ex-girlfriend in the head in his garage during a bitter custody dispute over their 2-year-old daughter.

Jurors who convicted Daniel Roberts of murder had to weigh two very different theories of what happened early on Aug. 15, 2005.

Prosecutors said Roberts set an elaborate trap and shot Melissa Mendoza to death, but the defense contended Mendoza was the aggressor and that Roberts made a "split-second" decision to shoot in self-defense.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes told jurors that Roberts lured Mendoza to his home with false accusations about their 2-year-old daughter, then waited in the garage with the lights off. She was shot in the head as she stepped through the door, he said.

But defense lawyer Leonard Sharon said it was Mendoza, angry and unpredictable, who arrived in the garage holding a stolen handgun and hurling threats.

A loaded .38-caliber handgun was found next to Mendoza's body, but Stokes said Roberts placed it there after she was killed. Stokes said she held a Pepsi, a handbag and a cell phone -- not a gun -- as she entered the garage.

After hearing the closing arguments, jurors returned to Superior Court on Tuesday to begin deliberations in the three-week murder trial.

Roberts and Mendoza were embroiled in a custody dispute over their daughter Savanna. Mendoza had taken Savanna to California while the girl was supposed to be in Roberts' custody but was ordered to bring the child back to Maine.

Stokes and Sharon traded shots during the trial. At one point, Sharon called for a mistrial because he said Stokes was laughing at his witnesses.

Security was extremely tight with spectators passing through a metal detector. Roberts is former leader of a local Hells Angels chapter, and signs warned against gang colors, badges or pins being worn in the courtroom.

At one point, Justice Joyce Wheeler cautioned spectators not to make eye contact with jurors, some of whom felt they were being stared down.

Jurors will have only the option of considering a murder charge, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison in Maine. Roberts waived the right for jurors to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.

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Information from: Sun-Journal, http://www.sunjournal.com

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