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RALEIGH — A jury on Monday found Jonathan Frederick Sander guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.
Sander, who killed three of his next-door Wake Forest neighbors with a shotgun in 2016, could now face the death penalty.
Jurors emerged from deliberations Monday afternoon after defense attorneys ended arguments on April 5. The trial began on March 25, three years to the day after the slayings.
According to prosecutors, Sander blasted his way into his neighbors’ home in the 5900 block of Clearsprings Drive on the eastern edge of Wake Forest with a shotgun. He then shot and killed Sandy Mazzella, Sandy’s wife Stephanie and 76-year-old mother Elaine.
Sander ran a Wake Forest landscaping business with Sandy Mazzella and the two families had gone on vacations together, but the relationship soured in early 2016 as the families became increasingly antagonistic toward each other, testimony at the trial showed. Deputies were frequently called to settle disputes over things like pets and infidelity, and a few days before the killings, an underage female member of the Mazzella family accused Sander of inappropriately touching her.
Prosecutors submitted evidence showing Sander had looked at articles online about the penalty for inappropriate touching in North Carolina prior to the shootings. Sander also confessed to the shootings in a video interview with deputies, in which he said “I wanted to kill him so his family would be hurt like my family was.”
Sander, who was 52 when he committed the murders, declined to testify in the trial, telling Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley that “the truth will come out.”
Video of the first day of the trial from ABC11 showed Sander begin shouting as Sandy Mazzella’s father, Sal, was testifying about witnessing Sander gun down his son, daughter-in-law and wife.
“You’re telling me I blasted through the laundry room door five times and you sat there with your family?” Sander yelled in the video, as deputies rushed to grab him. “You didn’t run. You killed your family and you’ll go down for it.”
He was removed from the room and warned by the judge to be civil for the rest of the trial.
But on Monday, after the jury left the room following reading the verdict, Sander yelled at Sal again, according to video from WRAL.
“See you soon, Sal,” Sander said. “Have a nice day.”
He then mouthed “F--- you” to the family repeatedly as they left the courtroom.
Shirley warned Sander that even though the jury was not in the room, prosecutors could use his comments against him as they argue for the death penalty.
“Put me to death,” Sander responded. “That’s what’s happening anyway.”
The sentencing hearing began Tuesday. Defense attorneys have called experts and Sander’s family members to testify as to his character and mental health.
After the hearing ended, which was expected to happen late Thursday, the jury will begin deliberating if Sander should be sentenced to death or be imprisoned for life.
As of press time, no sentence had been handed down.