In most cases no-one knows what happened at the time a murder occurs. Sure there are sometimes witnesses who may see bits and pieces and there are even the cases where accomplices will testify against another. But, even then you cannot say for sure what really happened. You have to piece together the witness testimony to come up with a story in some cases and in others you have to believe the person who says they were there when the crime occurred. Criminals are notorious for trying to lessen their own guilt and get the best deal they can from prosecutors, generally whatever allows them to preserve their life and/or spend the least amount of time behind bars. This is why prosecutors generally have to give a jury a theory of what occurred based on the evidence they have and it is also why it is difficult to determine sometimes if something is self-defense or flat out murder. Then again self-defense claims are a dime a dozen simply because while prosecutors may feel they can prove differently a defense attorney only needs to plant reasonable doubt. Where I tend to have issues is when I am not sure that the prosecution theory necessarily fits the evidence.
Daniel Roberts and Melissa Mendoza met in California. Melissa was working as a paralegal for a person injury attorney and Daniel was a client after a motorcycle accident. The two had started a relationship and ended up moving to Sabattus Maine, Daniel's home state. In May of 2003 Daniel and Melissa had a little girl, Savanna, but it seems it was not long until the relationship began to fall apart. By September of that year they had already set up a custody agreement sharing 50/50 custody, six months for each parents. However, it appears that the couple did what many couples with issues do and would break up and get back together, then break up again. By June of 2005 they had broken up again, it would ultimately be the last time, but if events had not ended as they had who is to say it would have remained? I got the impression through my research that Melissa was never really happy in Maine. Her family was still in California and we all know weather conditions are vastly different. It seems that she made frequent trips to California. Whether she took Savanna with her or not is unclear. It would be later said that despite the 50/50 agreement the couple had established in September of 2003 that Savanna had remained with her mother most of the time leading up to June of 2005. However, I have to say that I got the impression that for the majority of that time not only was Melissa in Maine, but that the couple were still going back and forth. Often when that occurs the legal paperwork takes a backseat for at least the moment and it is only enforced when it is needed. And, it appears that in July of 2005 Daniel Roberts felt it needed enforced.
It was then that Melissa returned to California, presumably this time for good and she had taken Savanna with her. According to the court papers that was Daniel's visitation time and he filed against her saying she had moved and taken her without his permission. Prosecutors, as well as friends and family, argued that while it was his legal right he only did so in attempts to control Melissa or simply to cause problems for her and cause her emotional trauma. They could be absolutely correct in Daniel's motives but from a legal standpoint he had an edge. Melissa had spoken to an attorney about modifying the original order but nothing had been done legally and simply went to California. Daniel filed a report and when he went to California to get his daughter Melissa took her to the police station and surrendered her.
Melissa was able to get a date of September 12th for a hearing to modify the custody order, but until then she had to face the other legal consequences. On August 8th Melissa was in Maine for a hearing. She had rented a car before going to court. In court they ordered that she have supervised visitation with her daughter. A friend had offered for Melissa to stay with her and she was granted the right to supervise. On that day in court she was given visitation from one that afternoon until the following evening. She was also granted visitation for the next three weekends. When she walked out of court it was alleged that she found the windshield of her rental car “smashed with a rock” and instead of making visitation at one she did not make it back until nearly five that evening. Daniel allegedly heard that she had not been available on time, or for several hours and insisted to Melissa she return Savanna to which she allegedly took her back early but it is unclear how early.
On the following day Melissa's friend, Dawn Destrike, who had allowed Melissa to stay with her and to supervise the visits claimed that she had four tires on two vehicles slashed overnight and she felt that Daniel was responsible. She informed the court she no longer felt being a supervisor for Melissa was a wise choice. She also asked Melissa to not stay at her home. Melissa went to a hotel and the following day a revision to the court order was made. Daniel offered to leave his home for her visitation and allow his home used and two different friends would stay at the home with Melissa and Savanna and supervise. On August 11, the day after this revision was made Melissa went and got a restraining order out on Daniel. My research indicated that in some court papers, somewhere, Melissa alleged that he had put a gun to her head and threatened her. Now, whether this was alleged in some of the custody issues or to obtain the restraining order, I cannot say. Nor could I find any other information about this alleged occurrence. I do not want to say that this did not happen because it quite possibly could have but I find it odd that not only can I find nothing else pertaining to this but that it did not come out until so late in the relationship. People file things against others all the time that are not necessarily true when it comes to the end of a relationship. I also find it odd that she filed for the order the day after the revision was made and he had offered his home for the visitation. It would seem that could have made things more hostile, something she definitely would not need or want in her life at the time. It would appear that this would be her last opportunity to keep things calm and visit her daughter before her hearing to modify the order.
Melissa's first visit in Daniel's home occurred on August 12th at eleven in the morning and lasted until the 14th until five that evening. Apparently Daniel came home, Melissa went back to her hotel and the evening turned into what prosecutors would call “several heated” phone calls between the two. Melissa had taken to recording the calls so that evidence would be presented later. Now, here is where I get a little sketchy. Prosecutors claim that Daniel “lured” Melissa back to his home a little after one in the morning on August 15th, just hours after her visitation had ended. They would later allege in court that he had done so in order to trap Melissa, murder her and try to claim self defense. However, there appears to be proof otherwise that it was Melissa who had called Daniel asking to come to his home and that he had responded that she could as long as she did not “pull anything stupid.” This comment was allegedly either recorded by Melissa herself or it was through a text message. Either way this was allegedly the conversation and hence why I have a problem with the theory that the prosecution gave to the jury. Now, let me be clear in saying that even if Daniel did not “lure” Melissa to his home as prosecutors claim that does not mean that her death was necessarily self defense on his part. My problem lies with the fact that in my opinion the prosecution cannot have it both ways. Sure, saying that he “lured” her there and then she was shot, admittedly by him, make it look more like cold blooded murder than saying she went over to his home, after she got a restraining order and after they had several heated arguments.
And then of course this is where the prosecution and the defense really differ in their theories of what happened. One thing everyone agrees upon is that the gun used belonged to Daniel. In any other case that would be simple.... his gun, his house... closed case. The problem here is that apparently until just a few months prior it was her house also, but add to that the fact that she had just spent the last 48 hours in that home without him. He would claim in his 911 call that she must have stolen the gun from his home over the weekend and had returned with it. He would claim that she had pulled into the garage of the home where he met her brandishing the gun and threatening him. Within those claims he would allege that she not only threatened to kill him, but their daughter and then herself. He claimed that he wrestled the gun from her and had gone off by accident. Through his defense he would claim that it was all cause by Daniel attempting to protect himself, and of course his daughter. Prosecutors say that despite the gun being found next to Melissa they believe Daniel placed it there and that Melissa had not been holding it when she got to the home. They claim that she was carrying a Pepsi, her cellphone and her purse and would not have been able to also wave the gun. To be fair without knowing where and how the other items were found I cannot say if I agree with this assessment or not.
Regardless of which story you believe the end result came when Melissa was struck in the head by a bullet. While most would discount the self-defense theory based on the fact that the bullet was said to be the back of her head, in my opinion if Daniel told the truth then it could have been possible. Either way Savanna Roberts was now no longer without a mother and if the prosecution got there way she would not have a father either.
In December of 2005 a grand jury indicted Daniel on charges of murder. His trial commenced in February of 2007 and lasted three weeks. There was a lot of controversy, not just about the crime itself, but over the fact that not only did the prosecution let it be known that Daniel was a former leader of a local Hells Angels Motorcycle chapter but by the fact that there were signs posted in the courts warning against gang colors, badges or pins being worn in court. The defense argued against this as not only limiting the public but also showing prejudice to the jury.
In my opinion the prosecution may have been lucky in this case. The defense waived all rights to lesser charges. What this meant was that the jury had two choices. They either found Daniel guilty of first degree murder or they found him innocent. Daniel admitted he had shot the gun and had the jury decided he did so unintentionally they would have had to find him not guilty of the charges. It was a bit of a gamble for the defense as well in my opinion. By waiving all other charges they are not giving the jury options. Maybe they were not sure it completely fit first degree murder but in the same respect they were not completely buying his story. They could have settled on a lesser charge which would have resulted in less prison time. However, it would appear that the defense seemed confident that they could plant the seed of reasonable doubt. The problem is that some times an attorney can be way too confident in their skills. This seemed to be one of those times.
On February 28, 2007 the jury returned with a verdict of guilty. Whenever possible I note how long deliberation took before a verdict was reached. I obviously did not come across that information here but even I am curious as to the time it took the jury. Regardless in June of 2007 the judge sentenced him to fifty-five years in prison as well as Daniel was ordered to pay $4,500 in restitution for Melissa's funeral. In August of that year her family filed a wrongful death suit against him but I found nothing about any results. Melissa's family is raising Savanna. According to the Maine Department of Corrections website Daniel's earliest possible release date is February 19, 2053.
Daniel had filed two appeals, one in 2011 and one in 2014. In the 2014 the issue of the restrictions made to the courtroom during the trial was brought up but both appeals were denied and the conviction and sentence has been affirmed.