Maine's highest court upholds Hartford man's murder conviction, 50-year sentence




  • In US
  • 2022-07-05 22:37:00Z
  • By Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

Jul. 5-PARIS - The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has denied claims by Rondon Athayde that the Oxford County Superior Court made errors during his trial last year for the brutal murder of his longtime girlfriend in Hartford in 2018.

His conviction in the killing of 41-year-old Ana Cordero has been upheld, as has the 50-year prison sentence handed down in August last year.

Athayde, 50, of Hartford, filed his appeal with the Law Court in May, claiming the Oxford County court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made to law enforcement when they walked him through his home after he reported Cordero's death. He claimed the court erred in denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal "because a jury could not rationally find that his conduct was sufficient to cause the victim's death." He also claimed the court "abused its sentencing power in considering a history of domestic violence between Athayde and the victim in determining his base sentence."

When Justice William Stokes handed down the 50-year sentence, he called the "brutal" and "extraordinarily violent" domestic violence assault an "abomination," adding that the images of Cordero and the crime scene "stayed with me for several weeks."

Stokes said it was clear to him from the evidence presented at trial that it hadn't been the first time Cordero had been physically assaulted by Athayde.

Maine's chief medical examiner testified at trial that Athayde had beaten Cordero at least 43 times with metal rods and a wooden coat hanger at their home at 62 Bear Mountain Road and that - after losing roughly two-thirds of her blood through internal and external bleeding - she died as a result of those injuries.

The couple had moved to Maine from Brazil. According to court records, Athayde referred to Cordero as his wife, but the two were not legally married.

The couple's 3- and 4-year-old daughters were home at the time of Cordero's beating, investigators determined.

According to court records, Athayde called 911 from his home just after midnight Dec. 13, 2018, and police arrived around 1 a.m. Athayde was placed in police custody and brought to the Oxford Police Department, where two detectives interviewed him starting at 4:13 a.m.

The detectives read Athayde his rights, after which Athayde repeated his understanding of the warning, signed a waiver of his rights and agreed to recorded interviews.

Late that afternoon, police took Athayde back to his home, repeated the Miranda warning, and continued interviewing and recording him for another 90 minutes while walking through the home. Police repeatedly asked him if he needed a break, needed food, or needed to rest, because he hadn't slept in more than 24 hours, and he declined.

Before his trial began, Athayde had filed a motion to suppress those interviews but the Oxford County court denied that motion, concluding that the statements he'd made to police during the walk-through were made voluntarily.

In reviewing the lower court's records, including the recorded statements, the Law Court found that this was a "close case" in calling the statements voluntary. The court took into consideration the length of interrogations by police and how he was treated during the time he made multiple statements.

"Athayde was handcuffed and taken into custody at approximately 1 a.m. on Dec. 13. Police detectives interrogated him starting at 4:13 a.m., with a short break to fingerprint him, followed by continued questioning until 12:04 p.m., and the resumption of questioning during the 90-minute walk-through, which began after 4 p.m.," all without sleep, according to the Law Court's written decision, which was issued Tuesday.

During these interviews, Athayde was at times highly emotional, "as evidenced by him praying, feeling sick, and saying that he wanted to die."

On the other hand, the court found police exerted no pressure beyond taking him into custody and "interacting with him so that he could speak as he wished. The detectives specifically asked him multiple times while he was in custody whether he wanted to stop. They offered him food and drink. They attempted to draw the interview to an end at one point, but when Athayde continued to talk, they simply continued the conversation," according to court records.

The Law Court concluded that although Athayde was clearly emotionally distressed, that did "not interfere with his ability to recall what had happened or to speak from the free choice of a rational mind" and there was no evidence that he'd been coerced by police misconduct.

During the three-day trial in June 2021, the state submitted the video recording of the walk-through as evidence, but not the recordings of the interviews conducted at the police station.

When the state closed its case, Athayde did not testify and his attorney did not call anyone to testify in his defense.

Two months later, Athayde received a base sentence of 45 years in prison based on the court's finding of serious and repeated domestic violence, and even though the court found that Athayde had cooperated with investigators and had no prior criminal convictions, the fact that the couple's daughters were home and heard or saw some of what happened, along with the "conscious pain and suffering of the victim during the hours of abuse" that led to her death, another five years was added to that base sentence.

In his appeal, Athayde claimed the Oxford County court erred in denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal after the state closed its case because it hadn't proved that a rational jury could have found him guilty. The Law Court disagreed, finding the lower court had properly denied the motion for a judgment of acquittal because, based on the evidence, a jury could "rationally find that Athayde, by severely beating the victim on December 12 and 13, inflicted new injuries and aggravated existing injuries, causing her fatal blood loss."

Athayde also argued that the lower court had erred because it hadn't instructed the jury that the victim had other medical issues and because there was insufficient evidence that Athayde had inflicted the older injuries that led to the victim's death.

The Law Court disagreed, finding the jury instruction was sound.

And, finally, Athayde asserted in his appeal that the Oxford County court should not have considered prior domestic violence in determining the seriousness of the murder charge, and that it had abused its sentencing power.

The Law Court disagreed, finding the consideration of domestic violence in sentencing was appropriate in this case.

Athayde is serving his sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren. The earliest date he will be eligible for release in Feb. 3, 2062.

Athayde was represented by Portland attorney Clifford Strike during the murder trial; he was represented by Rory A. McNamara, an attorney in York, for the appeal.

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