Mother-in-law guilty in parking lot murder case

Joanna Hayes was sentenced to serve a life sentence Wednesday afternoon after a Gwinnett County jury convicted her in the April 26, 2009 shooting death of her daughter-in-law Heather Strube at a Target parking lot in Snellville.

Upon her release, Superior Court Judge Warren Davis sentenced her to serve five years on probation, the first part of which will be intensive probation. She also was ordered not to contact relatives of the victim in the case, including her grandson.

A jury returned the guilty verdict shortly after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Gwinnett County on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

She seemed emotional when the verdict was read, swallowing and shaking her head  from side to side.

After the verdict but before sentencing, Hayes reiterated that she was not guilty and told the judge she cared for her daughter-in-law and would never hurt her.

Hayes' mother said much the same thing outside the courthouse after the verdict.

"A grave injustice was done today," Lois Hands said. "Joanna did not do this. She would not have hurt Heather."

Hayes, 45, of Luthersville, Ga., was convicted of gunning down her daughter-in-law in the parking lot of a Target store on Scenic Highway North in Snellville. Several witnesses testified at trial that the shooter wore a "Sonny and Cher" style man's wig and fake mustache when she walked up and shot Strube point blank in the head.

Police said Hayes dressed as a man and donned the disguise to avoid being recognized by onlookers as well as her own grandson, 18-month-old Carson Strube. He was buckled into his car seat when his mother was slain outside her vehicle.

Mary and Buddy Allen, the parents of Heather Strube, have been fixtures in the courtroom every day of the trial. They burst into tears when the verdict was read. A relative mouthed to Mary Allen "no more fear," and she nodded in response.