Judge after sentencing murderer: ‘Get him out of my courtroom’
Jurors sentenced Jonathan Sander to life in prison Monday for the triple murder of his next-door neighbors, sparing him the death penalty in the shotgun slayings that destroyed a pair of families.
After three weeks and multiple outbursts from Sander, the Mazzella family rose to confront the convicted killer from the witness stand, offering both hope and forgiveness as grandchildren watched from the gallery.
“I do not hate you!” said Sal Mazzella, who lost his wife, Elaine, son, Sandy, and daughter-in-law, Stephenie, during Sander’s 2016 rampage. “You heard what I said. I do not hate you! Through Jesus Christ, I do not hate you or your family. In you, Lord, I have chosen to forgive you.”
Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley offered Sander a more stern goodbye, ordering him directly to Central Prison.
“When you take your last breath,” Shirley said, ‘you’ve going to die alone and you’re going to die forgotten. Get him out of my courtroom.”
Sander rolled his eyes and yawned during Mazzella’s statement, shaking his head and applauding when the widowed man finished. For roughly 30 minutes, Sander then gave a rambling speech disputing evidence, insulting his attorneys and accusing others for his crimes.
“Everything’s a lie and a sham,” he said, handcuffed as he shuffled through notes. “On my appeal, you’ll see what justice is. You’re sentencing a good man to life, and that’s not going to fly.”
Sander and Mazzella had been best friends and partners in a lawn and landscaping business, but their friendship transformed into an ever-escalating feud over money and business disagreements that finally erupted when the Mazzellas accused Sander of molesting an underage member of their family.
Evidence over the trial showed that Sander drank six Shock Top beers at Buffalo Brothers in Wake Forest, then took his shotgun and burst into his neighbors’ house screaming, “Child molester? Really, Sandy?”
In a recorded confession shortly after the shootings, Sander told a sheriff’s detective he shot Sandy Mazzella for “revenge” so that “his family would be hurt like my family.”
After the sentence, Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley cut Sander off when he began addressing jurors directly. He told him that he likely would have faced only a 16 to 29-month sentence for indecent liberties with a child, and even that would have been served as probation given his lack of a prior criminal record.
He added that once Sander reaches prison, “You, sir, are going to be housed with the most violent criminals in the state. People who are meaner and more violent than you.”
Throughout the trial, Sander repeatedly lashed out at the elder Mazzella, once while he testified tearfully about witnessing his family’s murder. Shirley said he’d learned from weeks in court that Sander craves the spotlight, noting that he addressed much of his speech to news cameras.
“The memory of you in the eyes of the public is going to fade,” the judge said. “Come Monday, they’re going to watch something else.”