‘Legally dead’ Sanders enters not guilty plea

Published 11:45 pm Friday, February 11, 2011

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — A Las Vegas man who was long believed dead has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old girl whose body was found last October in remote woods in east-central Louisiana.

Thomas Steven Sanders, 53, who had been declared legally dead 17 years ago in Mississippi, entered the pleas Friday to charges of kidnapping that resulted in death and use of a gun to kill Lexis Roberts. He could face the death penalty if convicted of either charge.

An earlier indictment charged Sanders with kidnapping the girl, whom he allegedly brought from Arizona and shot in Catahoula Parish with a .22-caliber rifle. In November, he pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Roberts.

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Authorities said the girl’s mother, Suellen Roberts, 31, was in a relationship with Sanders, and they took the girl on a Labor Day road trip.

Hunters found Lexis Roberts’ body Oct. 8 in Catahoula Parish Suellen Roberts’ body was found in northwestern Arizona in November and identified in December.

Authorities said Sept. 3 security footage showed Sanders buying the type of ammunition that was used to kill Lexis Roberts at a Walmart in Las Vegas.

Sanders was arrested in Gulfport, after a huge manhunt to find Roberts and her daughter, last seen alive in Arizona.

Sanders’ parents, brother and ex-wife got a Mississippi court to declare Sanders legally dead in 1994, saying nobody had heard from him in seven years.

That January, he had been arrested in Georgia on two counts of cruelty to children. Court records show he was fined $500 and put on two years’ probation.

In November 2002, he was arrested in Clarksville, Tenn., for driving on a revoked license. Sanders was arrested in Tennessee again in March 2003 for alleged possession of drug paraphernalia.