A potential motive is still unclear after a Wake Forest man accused of fatally shooting two of his neighbors and his neighbor’s visiting mother last week appeared before a Wake County judge Monday.
Jonathan Sander, 52, faces three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sandy Mazzella, 47; his wife, Stephanie Mazzella, 43; and Sandy Mazzella’s mother, Elaine Mazzella, 76. They were found dead Friday evening at their home at 5907 Clearsprings Drive in northern Wake County.
Neighbors have said Sander and Sandy Mazzella worked for the same landscaping business, Advanced Mowing & Landscaping Inc., and had been arguing for months. The company’s website lists Sandy Mazzella as the company’s president.
Sandy Mazzella obtained a temporary restraining order against Sander on Feb. 25. In his request for the protective order, Mazzella said Sander had made “threatening texts, phone calls, in person threats.”
Salvatore Mazzella, Sandy’s father, also filed for a protective order against Sander on Feb. 26.
Last month, Sander was arrested and charged with communicating threats. It is unclear whether the Mazzellas were the ones who reported it.
On Thursday, however, Wake County District Court Judge Ned W. Mangum declined to make the temporary protective orders against Sander permanent, effectively lifting them.
The next day, Wake County deputies were dispatched to the Mazzella home and also Sander’s home on Clearsprings Drive to settle a dispute. They returned around 5:55 p.m. after a report of shots fired to find the Sandy Mazzella, his wife and mother fatally wounded.
As deputies escorted Sander out of the courtroom Monday, Richard Sussman, the brother of Sandy Mazzella and son of Elaine Mazzella, shouted at him.
“Hey Sander, you rot in hell, you piece of garbage!” Sussman said.
Before the hearing, Sussman told the media he lives in New Jersey and doesn’t know exactly what sparked the fight.
“We’re all in shock, it’s beyond shock,” he said. “It’s gruesome; it’s unimaginable.”
The Mazzella couple’s 14-year-old daughter and Sandy Mazzella’s father were also in the house when the shootings occurred, but were unharmed.
Sussman said in an interview Sunday that Sandy Mazzella’s parents, Salvatore and Elaine Mazzella, had been visiting. He said Salvatore Mazzella had been hospitalized following the slayings, blaming himself for his wife’s death because their visit had been his idea.
Sussman said Monday that the Mazzellas’ daughter and 10-year-old son were with relatives, who were doing their best to keep them comfortable.
An online fundraising page on GoFundMe was created by Laurel Gallion, a Garner woman who said she has worked with Stephanie Mazzella for about 10 years. By Monday evening, the page had raised more than $7,000.
On Monday, Sander waived his right to a public defender and told the judge he had hired private attorney, Alan Briones.
Briones said Sander’s wife and brother were in the courtroom Monday. He said he talked to Sander and emphasized there are two sides to every story.
Sander, who appeared before Judge Robert Rader on Monday, is being held without bail. His next court appearance is set for April 18. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison or face the death penalty.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi