A Mercer County grand jury indicted a Trenton man on four counts of murder for setting a house fire that killed his 9-month old daughter, her two grandparents and another person in Hamilton over the summer, authorities said Friday.
Michael Sanders, 23, also faces charges including four counts of felony murder, four counts of aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated arson and one count of causing or risking widespread injury, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
In announcing the indictment, Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri revealed that a fourth person, 18-year-old Zamair McRae, died weeks after the blaze. Officials identified McRae as the son of the grandparents who were also killed.
Malani Sanders, 9 months old, and her grandmother, Tiffany Abrams-Jones, 42, died in the July 9 inferno on Woodlawn Avenue, authorities said. Abrams-Jones’ husband and the child’s grandfather, Prince Jones, 50, succumbed to his injuries days later, police said.
Three others – including the baby’s mother – suffered critical injuries in the fire, according to authorities.
Prosecutors said Michael Sanders texted the baby’s mother, who also lived at the Woodlawn Avenue home, and told her to get their daughter out of the residence. He was captured on security camera footage buying flammable liquid right before the blaze and walking toward the home minutes before the fire sparked around 3:40 a.m., according to authorities.
Detectives determined Sanders took a taxi from near his Bayard Street home in Trenton to Woodlawn Avenue in Hamilton, getting dropped off a block from the home around 3 a.m., according to prosecutors.
Wearing a dark sweatshirt with the hood over his head, a mask and white gloves, he was seen in the footage walking past the home toward Greenwood Avenue about 15 minutes before the fire started, the prosecutor’s office said.
Security camera footage also showed him buying “what appears to be a dark colored torch lighter and cigars. During this purchase, he removed the mask covering his face,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Sanders left the store and was seen walking on Woodlawn Avenue back to the house and about four minutes later after he passed the camera, the reflection of flames was visible, authorities said.
Investigators also recovered video of Sanders walking home to Bayard Street, the prosecutor’s office said. The video showed that when he arrived, he was not wearing the mask, gloves or sweatshirt.
Detectives found a dark hooded sweatshirt a few doors down from Sanders’ home at the bottom of a basement stairway, according to authorities.
The prosecutor’s office said Sanders was being held at the Mercer County Correction Center ahead of a trial.
Prosecutors have not commented on a possible motive in the killings.
Staff writer Kevin Shea contributed to this report.
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