A man convicted of killing three people in Wake Forest screamed at the victims’ family following his sentencing, and read a manifesto which accused the survivors of being responsible for their loved ones’ deaths.
Jurors reached a unanimous verdict Monday afternoon to sentence Jonathan Sander to life imprisonment for the March 2016 murders of Sandy, Stephanie, and Elaina Mazzella. Sander shot each of his victims multiple times with a shotgun.
Friends and family members of the Mazzellas made victim impact statements after the sentencing, which included comments directed to Sander, the jury, the attorneys, and the courtroom gallery.
Sander also had the opportunity to speak, and despite being advised that he was allowed 10 minutes to talk, Sander shouted conspiracy theories for 27 minutes.
Judge Graham Shirley finally cut off the defendant as Sander appeared to make threats toward individual jurors.
Prosecutors first read letters from Stephanie Mazzella’s mother and sister, who were unable to attend the proceedings. Mazzella’s mother is in poor health, and wrote that she should have shared information about her illness.
“She protected me by not telling me what was happening to her and her family in the last few months of her life. I regret by not telling her about my medical condition, since I knew that if she knew, she would have dropped everything to be with me. That probably would have saved her life.”
The court heard next from family friends who have helped care for Sandy and Stephanie Mazzella’s two children since their parents’ deaths, and then from the children themselves. Nicholas Mazzella read a list of questions to the man who murdered his mother and father.
“Do you have any regrets on your future? Was what you did really worth the consequences, such as losing my family and also not getting to see your own family? Now your own kids don’t even get to see you anymore,” the teenager said.
“How did you feel after killing my parents and grandmother? Why did you not plead guilty if you knew you were guilty?”
Nicholas told Sander that he should seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and told his parents’ killer that even though he has done many wrong things, Heaven is still an option.
His younger sister put together a video slideshow of pictures of her parents. The judge did not allow her comments to be recorded as she is still a juvenile.
The final victim impact statement came from Sal Mazzella, who was the father to Sandy and husband to Elaine. The 76-year-old escaped the home when Sander went on his shooting spree.
“I hope you can hear me,” Sal Mazzella began.
“Oh, I can hear you, and you’ll hear me when I talk,” Sander replied.
Mazzella talked about how he never understood the concept of hate. He said he had to have the word explained to him when he learned English as a six-year-old in Italy.
Mazzella said he had always wanted it taken out of the dictionary, and that his wife Elaine loved and cared for everyone she met.
“I still cannot understand why you hated my son so much. It baffles me,” Mazzella said to Sander.
“You, Mr. Sander, in your hatred, took my dear wife Elaine from me and took the parents of my precious grandchildren. You, in your hatred, you killed my family, and changed the course of mine and my grandchildren’s lives forever.”
Sander spoke loud nos in response throughout and interrupted by saying to wait until he (Sander) was done with his speech.
“Though we will forever live with the loss of my precious family members, I do not hate you,” Mazzella shouted.
“I hope one day I will meet my savior face to face, be reunited with my wife Elaine, my son Sandy, and my daughter-in-law Stephanie. In you, Lord, I have chosen to forgive you. God has given me the strength to do the impossible.”
Sander mocked Mazzella with a “golf clap” as Sal Mazzella returned to his seat.
Then Sander opened up a large envelope which contained what some in the gallery — including sheriff’s deputy bailiffs — described as a manifesto. Sander had a prepared speech as well as photos which he claims show he was framed.
He told the judge that his documents will overturn the conviction and that he will be free from prison within two years.
He accused the Mazzellas and their daughter of concocting a story to convict him of child molestation. Sal Mazzella left the courtroom at the beginning of the diatribe.
“I was built up with anger, I was built up with paranoia, I was built up with anxiety, every single day, saying ‘I can’t believe they’re going to go this far.’ As I was going through this whole situation, I had the spirits around me saying ‘these guys are bad, they’re framing you, they’re going to put you in hot water,'” Sander shouted as he stood with his hands cuffed and shackled to his abdomen.
“The truth is your parents are dead because of you, not because of me. and not because of my hands. You made up a lie, yeah you did,” he yelled at the teenage girl. “Look at her crying, look at her crying now.”
Sander said multiple witnesses lied about seeing him blast his way into the Mazzellas’ house with a shotgun. He disputed the type of firearm used, and berated the Wake County Sheriff’s Office lead detective who fired blanks during closing arguments as a demonstration of how the pump-action shotgun must be cocked and reloaded
“I hope you kept in good shape because I’m getting it back. I didn’t kill anybody with my gun,” Sander shouted.
He claimed the gun accidentally discharged and that one of the birdshot shells grazed one of his female victims. He said he shot low and to the side of another.
Sander admitted to intentionally shooting his former friend and business partner, Sandy, but then made the claim that all three of the people he shot survived the wounds he inflicted.
“I did shoot Sandy. I shot him low on his stomach one time, that’s the one with the bullets that made the black marks. I barely wounded him. And I left. I left. After I left, Sal Mazzella shot and killed his family. Why? For insurance money,” Sander said.
Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley interjected on multiple occasions to remind Sander that he had been convicted of the murders.
Sander’s conspiracy theories went on to include allegations that investigators planted extra teeth as evidence in the shooting of Elaina Mazzella — whom he shot in the head from close range — and that his own defense attorneys Thomas Manning and Raymond Tarlton paid the jury to convict him.
“Why didn’t you say any of the facts that I said? Why didn’t you, Tom? None of these. Let’s see how well the dust settles. I’m happy to go to prison, and guess what, your money is not going to buy the next (jury). Not going to happen, Tom, because you bought everybody. The people I talked to that were supposed to show up (for jury duty), they said that you threatened everybody.
“What’s the matter Ray, why do you look so nervous? Look at Ray’s face. What, did you see a ghost? You just saw a ghost, right? You’re white. You’re shaking dude,” Sander said.
“It’s simple. I go to jail for what Sal did.”
Then Sander turned his attention to the jury, and told them he would remember all of their faces.
Judge Shirley immediately cut him off and proceeded to condemn Sanders for his words and his actions:
“Your acts not only destroyed the Mazzella family but you also destroyed your own kid’s lives. You destroyed (your partner’s) life. Your acts were selfish and they were cowardly. Why? Because of an alleged bankruptcy?
With respect to what you call molestation, the nature of the act that (the Mazzella’s daughter) described is called indecent liberties with a minor. That’s a Class F felony. You have no prior record level.
The reality is, given the nature of the act (the daughter) described, you would have been put on probation. You more than likely would have been put on probation and never would have served a day in prison. Never. Where in your mind you’ve got these years in prison is beyond me, because from a factual standpoint it was an impossibility. You destroyed their family and your family over the potential that you were going to get probation for an act.
Throughout these last seven weeks, there’s one thing I know, and it’s that you love the spotlight. You’ve demonstrated it now. Your statement was directly into the camera. That’s what you’ve lived for. You’ve delighted in your celebrity. Let me tell you something. As horrific as this crime was, when the light goes out in this courtroom today, the memory of you in the eyes of the public is going to fade and it’s going to fade quickly. There’s people that have watched this streaming on TV, but I’ll tell you something. Come Monday, they’re going to be watching something else. They won’t care about you. They won’t care about this trial. They’re looking for entertainment, and you’ll no longer matter in their eyes. You won’t even be a footnote, because you just don’t matter to them.
The sentence you have received is in fact a sentence worse than the imposition of the death penalty. I’ve been to death row. I’ve seen how the inmates live on death row. I’ve been to general population at Central Prison. I’ve seen how they live. The rest of your life in general population is far worse than the rest of your life (would be) on death row. You are going to be housed with the most violent criminals in this state, people who have committed murder but haven’t been sentenced to death, who are meaner and more violent than you.
When you lay your head on your pillow tonight, and you hear that iron lock click for the first time of your first time in Central Prison, when the lights go dark, I want you to lie in your bed and think. I want you to think about that two minute period that was described in which you ruined the lives of not only your family but the Mazzellas. I want you to realize that if you live out your life expectancy of 25.1 years, that two-minute period is going to have to repeat itself 6,578,000 times before you take your last breath, and when you take your last breath, you are going to die alone, and you are going to die forgotten.”