TODAY   |  May 11, 2010

Craigslist ad involved in deadly home invasion?

A father was brutally gunned down in his own home in front of his terrorized wife and two children, allegedly by the people who answered his ad on Craigslist. NBC’s Lee Cowan reports and the victim's wife and brother speak out.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But let us being this half-hour with a terrifying murder. A father beaten and shot in front of his wife and two children, allegedly by a group of people who answered his ad on the popular Web site Craigslist . We're going to talk to the victim's wife and his brother in just a moment, but first, NBC 's Lee Cowan has the details.

LEE COWAN reporting: A few clicks of the keyboard, a diamond ring for sale. Jewelry ads like this are posted every day on the classified service Craigslist , but this Web deal turned deadly.

Unidentified Caller: Yes. My dad has been shot. Please hurry! Hurry, please! We don't know if they're going to come back!

COWAN: Inside his own home, the man who posted the ad, James Sanders , lay dying. His wife was holding him in her arms.

Ms. CHARLENE SANDERS (Murder Victim's Wife): I just kept saying, ` Honey , please stay with me, stay with me , stay with us, don't go, didn't go.' And he was just barely gasping for air and he was all white, he was starting to get white. And I saw that half his ear was shot off, but I thought, `OK, maybe he's just in shock. Maybe he's just in shock, that's why he's white.' And he died.

COWAN: Police say 21-year-old Amanda Knight responded to the Craigslist ad saying she wanted the ring as a possible Mother's Day present. But when she came to look at it, police say she wasn't alone. Instead, they say these three men showed up with her, armed, and rushed the door as soon as Sanders opened it.

Detective ED TROYER (Pierce County Sheriff's Department): Two of them went upstairs and brought the boys down at gunpoint. Mom was already tied up. Little rough with the boys, dad got upset. They shot dad, and then one of the boys jumped on the gunman, got pistol whipped and they brought dad in the other room and shot him a couple more times.

COWAN: For his wife and two kids, the ordeal still wasn't over.

Ms. SANDERS: And I had a gun at the back of my head with a countdown, `Three, two,' and I'm screaming and my kids are standing there and I'm like, `Oh, please, God, don't let them kill me, don't let them kill my kids, don't let them kill me in front of my kids.'

COWAN: Police are investigating whether the same team was involved in another home invasion in which the victims were selling a flat-screen TV , once again, on Craigslist .

Det. TROYER: If you have something nice, somebody's going to figure out a way to take it from you, and Craigslist is a tool do that.

COWAN: Police say crimes linked to the Web site have become almost routine. While Craigslist offered its sympathy to the Sanders family , it says violent crimes linked to its site are extremely rare. Not rare enough, though, for the county prosecutor.

Mr. MARK LINDQUIST (Pierce County Prosecutor): We've charged the maximum that we can under the facts that we now know and the law.

COWAN: That's first degree murder. All four pleaded not guilty. A tempting ad and a temperament too trusting that left a family in mourning. For TODAY, Lee Cowan, NBC News, Los Angeles.

VIEIRA: Charlene Sanders is with us now, along with her brother-in-law Derek Sanders . Good morning to both of you. Please accept our condolences.

Mr. DEREK SANDERS (Murder Victim's Brother): Thank you.

Ms. SANDERS: Good morning. Thank you.

VIEIRA: Charlene , you and your family have been through such a horrible ordeal. How are you and the boys holding up right now?

Ms. SANDERS: Well, our whole life's been ripped apart, and just trying to put it back together as best we can, and It's hard . I just -- I miss my husband terribly, but I stand on my faith and that's truly why I'm sitting here today is my faith.

VIEIRA: As we just heard , you and your husband had listed a diamond ring for sale on Craigslist , and a couple answered the ad, came by to see the ring. Had you ever put anything on Craigslist before?

Ms. SANDERS: Yeah. My husband did and he's -- he has sold different things on Craigslist .

VIEIRA: So you had had the experience of people coming by the house to purchase something that you had put on Craigslist before?


VIEIRA: This time, your husband , James ...


VIEIRA: ...opens the door. And tell us what happened then.

Ms. SANDERS: Well, they came -- I was upstairs. They came in. They had the ring. He called me down to answer some questions about the ring. I did and he said to her, `Do you want the ring?' She said, `Yes.' He put out some cash. He said to my husband , `How's this?' And he goes, `Well, that's fine.' And then he goes, `Well, how about this?' And he held a gun -- he pulled a gun out. That's how it all started.

VIEIRA: And then at that point did the two other intruders entered your home?

Ms. SANDERS: Yeah. I heard -- then I could feel rushing around and my husband and I were looking at each other, panicking saying, `Just take it, take it, take anything you want , just don't hurt us, don't hurt us.' And we just kept chanting that, `Take it, take it.' And then all of a sudden we're getting zip-tied and put down on the floor by our island kitchen, face -- you know, I could see his face. And then the -- then the -- I could tell that three other people had been rushing in. And then I had a man come over to me with a gun at the back of my head saying, `Where's the stuff? Where's the stuff?' You know, I'm like, `What stuff?' `Where's the safe?' And you know, just continually, just screaming. And you know, at one point he kicked me in my head. And my boys were upstairs and they were brought down by the two gunmen, other gunmen, and they were put face down, but they weren't zip-tied. And then...

VIEIRA: And I know that one of your sons reacted, I believe, to the fact that you were kicked in the head , went after one of these intruders.

Ms. SANDERS: Mm-hmm.

VIEIRA: And it was your husband trying to protect your son, really, that resulted in him being shot.


VIEIRA: Is that right?

Ms. SANDERS: Mm-hmm. Yeah. He broke out of his zip-ties and tried to protect my -- the 14-year-old was trying to protect and my husband was trying to protect all of us. And I could -- I could only see a little bit where I was at because I saw that happen with my -- the 14-year-old getting, you know, trying to go after the guy and then he got pistol whipped and -- but every time I'd looked -- I tried to look, they'd say, `Get your face back down! Get down! She's looking.' You know, `She's looking.' I'm like just -- you know, I -- we just kept saying, `Just take everything, you know, just go, don't hurt us, don't hurt us.' And then I heard some gunshots.

VIEIRA: I know that one of the reasons you wanted to be here this morning, Charlene , and Derek as well, is because you both consider James a real hero. Is that right, Derek ?

Ms. SANDERS: I do. We do.

Mr. SANDERS: Yeah, he sure is. He's a -- he's an example of a real man, a family man and a husband and father. He's the type of guy a lot of people should aspire to be like.

Ms. SANDERS: Mm-hmm.

VIEIRA: And I know at his memorial service over the weekend, your son, Jimmy , your 14-year-old son said, `I will become the man my dad wanted me to be.' He also added...

Ms. SANDERS: Mm-hmm.

VIEIRA: ...`In time I will forgive these evil people that robbed my dad from me.' That he would have that sense of forgiveness at a time like this is quite amazing for a young man.

Ms. SANDERS: Yes, but that's what -- we're trying to raise our boys up as -- to be solid Christians in the Lord. And my husband 's big mission was to witness to people, he wanted to see people come to Christ. And now that he's gone, I feel like that is my mission in life. My mission was defined on April 28th when he was ripped from us. And that truly is the only reason I can sit here today, is because of my faith in Christ and wanting -- and I 've seen all the good things that have come from this. And I cry every day, I miss my husband so bad. But the selfish side would want to have him right here because we had so many plans for our future, but the selfless side says give him up for the Lord, because I've had so many calls, and the outpouring of love has been incredible. So that's what I have to go on. That's what -- what I have to live my life. But I do have to forgive, because the Lord says if you want to be forgiven, so must you forgive.

VIEIRA: But...

Ms. SANDERS: If I don't forgive, then I -- then I say I'm above Christ.

VIEIRA: But, Charlene , is...

Ms. SANDERS: It's hard , but I have to do it.

VIEIRA: And I understand then, I think that's very important. But do you have a message for -- I mean, thousands of people use Craigslist every day. Given what your family has gone through...

Ms. SANDERS: Mm-hmm.

VIEIRA: you have any message for those people?

Ms. SANDERS: I'd be very -- I would be extra cautious. I've had people tell me, maybe you should meet them in a police station , in the parking lot . I would probably suggest that or -- I mean, I've heard people say, `Well, I could go to the supermarket -- well -- parking lot .' But I've heard people get mugged, they say. You know, they could pull a gun out there. But you know what, meet them in the police parking lot . Hm.

VIEIRA: Charlene Sanders , I know this is such a hard time for you. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your sons.

Ms. SANDERS: Thank you.

VIEIRA: And Derek Sanders , with you as well. Thank you so much .

Ms. SANDERS: Thank you.

Mr. SANDERS: I appreciate it. You bet.

Ms. SANDERS: Thank you.