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Testimony begins in triple-homicide trial

Defendant removed from court after outburst

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RALEIGH ­— A man standing trial this week on charges that he shot to death three of his Wake Forest neighbors in 2016 had to be forcibly removed from the courtroom Monday after shouting profanities and accusations.

Prosecutors began calling witnesses Monday in the trial against Jonathan Frederick Sander, who is facing three counts of first-degree murder, records show. He could face the death penalty if the jury finds him guilty.

Among the witnesses was Sal Mazzella, who testified that Sander, a next-door neighbor, killed his wife, son and daughter-in-law with a shotgun on March 25, 2016.

Video from ABC11 showed Sander began shouting while prosecutors questioned Mazzella about the slaying.

“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.

“Mr. Sander ­— get him out of here. Get him out of here. Get him out of here,” Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley is heard saying as officers handcuff Sander while he shouted a profanity.

“You didn’t run. You killed your family and you’ll go down for it,” Sander continued to shout over Shirley’s orders before being removed from the room.

The News & Observer reported that Shirley told jurors to disregard the outburst and that he allowed Sander to return to the courtroom, warning that he had one more chance to be civil.

Soured relationship

Prosecutors have sought to use testimony to explain why Sander, who was 52 when the shootings happened, may have turned to violence against the family of his business partner.

Sander and one of the victims, Sandy Mazzella, ran a business together, Advance Mowing and Landscaping Inc. The families had been close enough to reportedly go on vacations together and lived next door from each other.

But in the months leading up to the shootings, deputies had been called multiple times to their homes in the 5900 block of Clearsprings Drive on the eastern edge of Wake Forest to settle disputes. Sandy Mazzella took out a temporary restraining order against Sander a month before the shooting, claiming Sander had been threatening his family. That order expired on the day of the shooting.

An underage family member of Sandy Mazzella’s also accused Sander of inappropriately touching her before the shootings, according to the News & Observer. Jurors this week heard from that family member as well as from a deputy who responded to the homes hours before Sandy, his wife Stephanie and 76-year-old mother Elaine were killed.

Officers testify

Following the shooting, Sander barricaded himself in his home for more than an hour before surrendering to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors said. In the hours after, Sander appeared to act confused about what happened.

Multiple deputies testified that Sander smelled of alcohol. Prosecutors said Sander allegedly told a bartender the day before the shooting that he would see Sander on the news the next day.

Former deputy Jessica Bostian, who was with Sander at WakeMed while he was being treated after the shooting, testified Wednesday that Sander kept saying that he had just snapped.

She told the court that Sander had told her “everyone knows that if you go to jail for molesting a child your life is over. I would lose my business. I would lose my family. I am nothing without my family and kids.”

Bostian also testified that Sander kept asking when someone was going to tell him what had happened, who was hurt, and if his family was OK.

“He said he blacked out but recalled drinking alcohol and smoking a joint prior to police arrival,” Bostian said.

The trial may last multiple weeks before the jury is asked to begin deliberations.