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Days before Wake Forest murders, gunman sought but couldn’t afford psychiatric counseling

April 10, 2019 GMT

A Wake Forest man who killed three of his neighbors three years ago sought psychiatric counseling two days before the shootings but was turned away because he couldn’t afford it, a psychiatrist said Wednesday.

Jon Frederick Sander was found guilty Monday of three counts of first-degree murder in the March 25, 2016, deaths of Sandy Mazzella, 47, his mother, Elaine Mazzella, 76, and his wife, Stephanie Ann Mazzella, 43. All three were shot multiple times with a shotgun at close range.

The jury is now considering whether Sander should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Sander told investigators after the shooting that he “snapped” because of an escalating feud between him and Sandy Mazzella. The two men lived next door to each other and shared a landscaping business, but their relationship unraveled as they tried to dissolve the struggling business in early 2016.

Sandy Mazzella and his father took out restraining orders against Sander in February 2016, and Sander was charged with threatening the Mazzellas. A few days before the shootings, Sander was accused of inappropriately touching a member of the Mazzella family.

Sander has been diagnosed as bipolar by several mental health experts over the years, and both forensic psychologist Cindy Cottle and forensic psychiatrist Dr. George Corvin testified this week that Sander also has a borderline personality disorder and is narcissistic and paranoid.

Corvin said Sander’s manic episodes included not only risky behavior but also hostility and a tendency to feel that he’s under attack.

“Their thoughts are going so fast, it seems they become increasingly irritable and hostile. They’re quick to get into arguments ... [and] they read bad intentions into things that people around them are doing,” Corvin testified. “There may be a core of truth, so that I may have an argument with somebody, but a paranoid, delusional manic may come to believe that that person is going to kill me, and I’ve got to do something. It is a fixed, false belief based on psychosis stemming from the bipolar illness.”

Sander has been treated for mental illness on and off through the years, and he was even committed involuntarily to a treatment facility in 2011, Cottle and Corvin said.

Although he didn’t always comply with treatment, Sander went to an outpatient psychiatric facility with his wife two days before the shooting, Corvin said.

“They wanted him to pay $250 for the assessment, and, as he didn’t have that money to pay, they left,” Corvin testified.

The stress from the feud with the Mazzellas only added to Sander’s mental problems, Corvin said.

“Social factors can make a psychiatric illness worse,” he said. “Not to Monday morning quarterback, but as a psychiatrist, you look at this and say, ‘My goodness, this is a very dangerous situation emerging.’”

The sentencing hearing was cut short Wednesday when a juror experienced a panic attack. The hearing is expected to resume Thursday morning.