Wake Forest man convicted in triple killing could be sentenced to death Tuesday

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A Wake Forest man who was convicted Monday of murdering three of his neighbors in March 2016 could be sentenced to death on Tuesday.

Jonathan Sander was found guilty Monday on three counts of first-degree murder in the shotgun shooting deaths of three of his neighbors — Sandy, Stephanie, and Elaine Mazzella — on March 25, 2016.

Sandy and Stephanie were husband and wife and Elaine was Sandy’s mother.

The trial featured outbursts from Sander, as well as times where it appeared he was sleeping in his chair during while witnesses were testifying. Sander spent much of the trial staring directly at TV cameras.

One of those outbursts came after he was convicted just before 2 p.m.

Following the verdict, Sander spoke out saying “I’ll see you soon, Sal. Have a nice day.”

Sal Mazzella was married to Elaine and Sandy was his son.

Judge Graham Ridgeway then warned Sander about what he was saying even though the jury was not in the room at the time.  

“Put me to death. That’s what’s going to happen anyway,” Sander then said. “I was framed. And that’s the way it is. Justice will be served,” Sander told Ridgeway.

“That is the aim of this court, sir,” Ridgeway said in retort.

Sander and Sandy Mazzella not only worked together but lived together at times, and they became neighbors. The friends began to feud over money, and in March 2016, the Mazzellas accused Sander of having inappropriately touched an underage female family member.

Last Friday, prosecutors presented evidence to show that Sander committed the murders — including video of Sander describing how he did it step-by-step.

One of the more intense things that happened during closing arguments on Friday was when prosecutors fired several rounds of blank shotgun cartridges to show how Sander had to pump the gun to shoot each one of the shells that they say killed three members of the Mazzella family.

His Mossberg 800 holds eight shells at a time which means he had to reload in order to shoot through a door three times and then hit the victims with seven shells.

Sander’s attorney didn’t deny that he did it, but said he wants jurors to focus on why Sander did it.

“It doesn’t have to be in lack of passion, it just has to be that he understood what he was doing. He can describe the feeling. He hated them. It’s not rage in this case, it’s revenge,” said attorney Jon Manning.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour on Friday before heading home for the weekend and then around three hours on Monday before breaking for lunch and coming back with the verdict.

Sander will appear in court again Tuesday for the sentencing phase. The jury will decide whether he will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

If he’s sentenced to death then Sander will be the second man in Wake County to face that penalty within the last five weeks. Seaga Gillard was convicted in February of murdering a couple at a motel in December 2016. He was given the death penalty at his sentencing in early March.

Gillard’s case was the first time a Wake County jury issued a death sentence in more than a decade.

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