‘I know I shot Sandy. I was holding the gun.’ Videotape of accused killer played in court.

Defendant in triple murder: ‘I know I shot Sandy’

Watch a portion of the interview of John Sander by investigators after the killings of Sandy, Stephanie and Elaine Mazzella in Wake Forest, NC in 2016.
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Watch a portion of the interview of John Sander by investigators after the killings of Sandy, Stephanie and Elaine Mazzella in Wake Forest, NC in 2016.

Accused killer Jonathan Sander told deputies he shot his next-door neighbor during a violent blackout, fearing his former best friend had ruined his life and would send him to prison as a child molester.

Sander’s death penalty trial wrapped up its eighth day Wednesday with a video recording of his interview with a Wake County sheriff’s investigator in 2016, during which Sander said he “snapped” at the end of a long feud with Sandy Mazzella, his business partner.

On the day of the triple slaying, Sander said several members of the Mazzella family taunted him from their driveway and the koi pond on their property, jeering that he would never see his children again because of their report that he had inappropriately touched an underage member of their family.

“I just went blank,” Sander told the investigator. “The last thing I remember I was seeing Sandy laying on the floor. ... I know I shot Sandy. I was holding the gun.”

Sander, 55, had befriended the Mazzella family and moved in next-door to their house outside Wake Forest, where the two families were partners in a lawn and landscaping business.

But the relationship turned sour over money problems, business disagreements and, finally, accusations from an underage member of the Mazzella family that Sander had inappropriately touched her. The Mazzellas had obtained a restraining order, which they were unable to make permanent.

Sander stands charged with murder for the shotgun slayings of Mazzella, his wife, Stephenie, and his 76-year-old mother, Elaine. As Sander spoke with the investigator, he described a day of drinking beer and seething over the child abuse accusation.

“I said, ‘My life is over,’ “ he said. “My business is over. Being a dad, which is my favorite thing. ... Everything I’ve ever worked for because of this piece of ...”

Earlier Wednesday, the Mazzellas’ teenage daughter said she hid upstairs in her brother’s closet, cowering with the family dog while her parents and grandmother were killed by shotgun blasts that were close enough to hear and smell.

In a videotaped interview, the Mazzellas’ oldest child fidgeted in her chair five days after the 2016 slayings and recalled, “I think he pointed the gun at me.”

The News & Observer does not typically identify minors.

In handcuffs and chained around the waist, accused killer Jonathan Sander lashed out at the elderly father and husband of the victims of the triple slaying during court Monday afternoon, March 25, 2019 in Raleigh.

Jurors Wednesday saw the Mazzella daughter tell an interviewer in the 2016 videotape that she heard someone screaming at her father while she hid in the closet. “It was like, ‘Child molester? Really, Sandy?’ ”

The daughter said she saw Sander and his children outside her garage door shortly before the shooting and then later saw holes shot through the same door. She did not see shots fired, she said, but believes Sander was banging on her bedroom door. She said her father had a gun in his pocket, and last week, investigators said they found a Beretta pistol near his body.

“If I was downstairs,” the daughter said, “I probably would have gotten shot. ... Good thing the pets didn’t get shot.”

The Mazzellas took out a non-contact restraining order shortly before the triple slaying, then tried unsuccessfully to make it permanent in court only a day before their deaths. The daughter noted this in her interview and regretted that Sander hadn’t been arrested prior to the shootings.

“We didn’t feel safe around him,” she said, “and I think my uncle knew this was going to happen. I didn’t think it was coming down to this, though. I thought Jon was better than this.”

Shortly after the shooting, evidence has shown, Sander holed up in his house next door for roughly an hour, telling police and deputies outside, “I’m already dead.” Later, he told deputies conflicting stories about blacking out and reaching his boiling point.

Earlier Wednesday, a bartender at Buffalo Brothers in Wake Forest testified that Sander was a regular, and jurors saw a video of him drinking four of his customary pints of Shock Top beer on the afternoon of the slayings. After he paid, the bartender said, she gave him two more from her “comp tab” reserved for regulars and newcomers.

In roughly two hours at the bar, his combined tabs showed, he drank six beers.

Testimony continues Thursday.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.