The father of a 9-month-old girl who died in a New Jersey house fire has been indicted by a grand jury with setting the blaze that also killed the girl’s grandparents and her uncle.
Trenton resident Michael Sanders, 23, is accused of starting the fire in Hamilton Township in the predawn hours of July 9, killing his baby daughter Malani Sanders; her 42-year-old grandmother, Tiffany Abrams-Jones; her 50-year-old grandfather, Prince Jones; and her 18-year-old uncle, Zamair McRae.
Th 15-count indictment charges Sanders with four counts of first-degree murder, four counts of first-degree felony murder, four counts of second-degree aggravated assault, two counts of second-degree aggravated arson and one count of second-degree causing or risking widespread injury or damage.
The fire started around 3:40 a.m. and "quickly engulfed both sides of the two and a half story, wood frame duplex, causing a partial roof collapse," the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said.
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A family member told NBC10 that Abrams-Jones died while trying to save her grandkids from the flames. She and the baby girl were found dead inside the house, while the child’s grandfather and uncle later died in the hospital.
Prosecutors said a witness told detectives that Sanders sent a text message to his daughter’s mom prior to the fire and instructed her to get the baby out of the house.
Mark Fury, Sanders’ attorney, called the fire a “tragedy” but said his client was not feuding with the baby’s mother. “It makes no sense. Either someone else was involved or one has to question the mental condition of Mr. Sanders,” Fury said, adding later that it did not appear someone else set the house alight.
Investigators said surveillance video from multiple cameras showed Sanders being dropped off by a taxi about a block from the home around 3 a.m. Sanders – "wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt with the hood over his head, a mask, and white gloves" – then walked by the home about 15 minutes before the fire, prosecutors said.
Then, about 10 minutes before the fire, Sanders could be seen on surveillance video at a nearby gas station buying a torch lighter and cigars, investigators said. During the purchase, Sanders allegedly removed his mask.
Moments later, Sanders could be seen on video walking toward the Woodlawn Avenue home, and about four minutes after he passed the home, the reflection of flames could be seen by that same surveillance camera, investigators said.
Investigators tracked Sanders to his residence, where they said video after the fire showed him no longer wearing gloves, a mask or a hoodie. They said they later found a dark hoodie, similar to the one Sanders was wearing, down a basement stairwell a few doors down from his home.
Sanders is being held in the Mercer County Correction Center as he awaits his trial.