Jim Sanders seemed excited the evening of April 28, 2010.
He and his wife, Charlene, were preparing to go on vacation in a few days, and someone was interested in buying a diamond ring the couple had been trying to sell.
“Someone was going to come by,” Charlene Sanders testified in Pierce County Superior Court on Tuesday. “It was a blessing.”
It soon turned into the worst night of their lives.
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The people they thought were potential buyers turned out to be robbers, and, in the end, killers. Jim Sanders, 43, was shot to death during a robbery inside his Edgewood home.
“I was basically ripped out of my home, and my family torn apart, all in minutes,” Charlene Sanders testified.
One of the alleged intruders, Kiyoshi Higashi, 23, is on trial for first-degree murder, robbery, assault and burglary. He is the first of four defendants to go to trial in the case, which drew national attention.
On the second day of testimony in the case Tuesday, Charlene Sanders, her 11-year-old son and 14-year-old stepson testified in a standing-room-only courtroom about what happened.
Their testimony went unchallenged. Higashi’s defense attorney, Michael Jordan, declined an opportunity to cross-examine them.
Charlene Sanders cried frequently during her testimony and seemed under a great weight as she recounted the night she lost her husband, whose wedding ring she wore to court on a chain around her neck.
The night, she said, began uneventfully.
She returned from work about 8 p.m. or so, and her husband and their two sons went to the family room to watch a new “Sherlock Holmes” movie on DVD.
Jim Sanders, who had advertised the ring on Craigslist, occasionally went to the window to see if the potential buyers had arrived at the couple’s home.
Some time after 9 p.m. they did, and he went downstairs to greet them.
A few moments later, he called for her to come downstairs to answer questions about the ring, Charlene Sanders testified.
In the kitchen with her husband, she said, was a young man she identified in court as Higashi and a young woman believed to be Amanda Knight. Knight has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, robbery and assault and is to go to trial later this year.
After Charlene Sanders answered their questions, they said they wanted the ring.
“He pulled out a wad of cash, and he said, ‘How about this?’” Sanders testified. “And then he pulled out a gun and said, ‘How about this?’”
Higashi and the woman bound the couple’s hands with plastic ties and forced them to lie face down on the floor, Sanders said.
“That’s when we went into panic mode,” she testified. “We just said, ‘Take it. Just take everything.’ I thought, ‘Why is this happening to us, God?’”
Sanders said she heard other people come into the house and prayed they wouldn’t find the boys – James Sanders Jr. and Chandler Kittelman – upstairs.
Soon after, two other men – prosecutors believe them to be Clabon Berniard and Joshua Reese – brought the boys downstairs at gunpoint and had them lie on the floor as well, Sanders said.
Berniard and Reese also have pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including murder and robbery, and face trial later this year.
The man identified as Berniard then began demanding to know where the Sanders family kept its safe, Charlene Sanders said. He kicked her in the head and at one point held a pistol to the back of her head and began counting backwards from three, she testified.
“He kept yelling, ‘I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you,’” Sanders said. “I thought we were all dead.”
It was then that her husband agreed to show them to his gun safe in the garage, Sanders testified. She said she thought Higashi and Reese went with her husband.
“Clabon stayed with me,” Sanders testified.
Not long after they left the kitchen, a struggle broke out in the vicinity of the laundry room, which leads into the garage, she said.
“I heard gunshots, then commotion, commotion, commotion,” Sanders testified.
Her son from a previous relationship, Chandler Kittelman, then took the stand. The fifth-grader testified about two gunmen barging into the family room and roughly pulling his stepbrother and him downstairs.
He choked up as he described one of the men calling his mother “the ‘B’ word” and pointing a gun at her head.
Chandler also testified about his stepbrother jumping up at one point and attacking one of the intruders.
“Then I heard some gunshots,” he said.
Then it was James Sanders Jr.’s turn on the witness stand. The ninth-grader, known as “Jimmy” to relatives, described a struggle that ended with his father’s death.
The boy said the intruders got his father to his feet, and he followed the man thought to be Berniard toward the safe in the garage. His father broke free of his bonds and began punching Berniard, the boy said.
Deputy prosecutor Karen Watson asked what happened with his father next.
“He was shot,” the boy said. “He just completely fell unconscious to the ground. Then I got up and jumped on the guy’s back and he threw me off. He pistol-whipped me.”
Two of the men, he didn’t say exactly who, then dragged his father into the living room, where he was shot three more times, the boy testified.
“Then someone said, ‘We’re making too much noise,’ and they all left,” James Sanders Jr. testified.
The intruders fled with the advertised ring, various electronics and the wedding ring from Charlene Sanders’ hand.