JACKSON, Miss. – Attorneys for a man who was declared dead and later charged in the kidnapping and killing of a Las Vegas girl have asked a judge to dismiss one of the indictments against him.
Thomas Steven Sanders was declared dead in Mississippi in 1994 after he abandoned his family seven years earlier. He surfaced years later as suspect in the deaths of 12-year-old Lexis Roberts, whose body was found Oct. 8, 2010, by hunters in Louisiana's Catahoula Parish, and her mother, 31-year-old Suellen Roberts, whose body was found the next month in northwestern Arizona's Yavapai County.
Sanders was indicted in Louisiana in November 2010, charged with kidnapping resulting in the child's death. A second indictment in January 2011 added the charge of using a gun in a crime resulting in death.
Sanders attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Dee Drell during a hearing Thursday to dismiss the second indictment. They claim it creates the situation of double jeopardy because both charges could result in the death penalty and arise from the same crime. The attorneys also said the second indictment, known as a superseding indictment, should be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds because it wasn't filed within 30 days of Sanders being charged.
Prosecutors said the superseding indictment is valid and should not be dismissed. They also said that double jeopardy protects against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal or conviction and multiple punishments for the same offense.
"As an initial matter, at this stage of the proceeding, defendant has not yet been convicted of either count and is not about to be punished for anything," prosecutors said.
The judge said he would rule later on the arguments.
Sanders has pleaded not guilty to killing the child. The trial is scheduled for Jan. 14. Arizona and Louisiana authorities have also said he will face state charges.
Investigators said Sanders confessed to the killings and helped direct them to the mother's body, according to court records. His attorneys have asked for that information to be withheld as evidence because they claim he "affirmatively and unequivocally stated in response to law enforcement questions that he wanted to talk to a lawyer."
"Despite this, the questioning of him did not cease, and counsel was not provided to him," the defense lawyers said in court filings.
Prosecutors have argued that Sanders only wanted to talk to an attorney about certain aspects of the case.
"In this case, each time that the defendant requested an attorney, it was limited to a particular topic, and his request was scrupulously honored by the interviewing agent. The defendant's requests were unambiguous. Nonetheless, law enforcement went a step further by confirming with the defendant that he wished to continue the interview without the advice of an attorney," prosecutors said.
Sanders was arrested in Gulfport, Miss., in November 2010 after a massive manhunt. Authorities said Sanders and Suellen Roberts were in a relationship when they set out on a road trip for the Labor Day weekend in 2010. The last place the mother and daughter were seen alive was in Arizona.
Security footage showed Sanders buying ammunition at a Walmart in Las Vegas about a month before Lexis Robert's body was found. The bullets he purchased were the same type that killed the girl, police said.
The mother and daughter's disappearances worried authorities early on, but the case took a bizarre twist when investigators realized their suspect had been declared legally dead 17 years earlier.
Sanders' parents, brother and ex-wife petitioned a Mississippi court for the death declaration in 1994, saying nobody had heard from him in seven years. Even so, Sanders drifted from state to state unnoticed despite being arrested in Georgia and Tennessee under his real name.