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Documents detail killings in declared dead case

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A man who was declared dead in 1994 told investigators that a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl was “in hysterics” after he shot her mother in the head in 2010 and drove the child across the country before shooting her and slitting her throat, court records said.

Thomas Steven Sanders is charged with kidnapping resulting in death related to the slaying of Lexis Roberts, whose body was found Oct. 8, 2010, by hunters in Louisiana’s Catahoula Parish. Her mother, 31-year-old Suellen Roberts, was found the following month in northwestern Arizona.

Sanders was declared dead in Mississippi in 1994 after he abandoned his family seven years earlier, but he surfaced later as a suspect in the child’s death. Authorities in Louisiana and Arizona are working with federal prosecutors and have said Sanders is likely to face state charges at some point.

The details about the deaths and Sanders’ alleged confession were filed last week in federal court in Louisiana in dueling arguments over whether his statements to law enforcement can be presented at trial. The judge didn’t immediately rule.

Sanders has pleaded not guilty to killing the child. The trial is scheduled for Jan. 14.

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 that year.

Sanders told authorities that the group was returning to Nevada from a park called Bearizona when he pulled off Interstate 20 to let Suellen Roberts shoot his .22 rifle. Court records said he shot the woman in the head, but didn’t give a reason, and left her body there.

Sanders told investigators that he “took the little girl to the Harrisonburg, La., area and then killed her, but did not abuse or rape her,” the court filings said.

Prosecutors said he shot Lexis three times in the head and once in the chest, “and finally cut her throat to make sure she was dead.”

During questioning about the child’s death, court records said Sanders “got very upset and started crying” and said “she didn’t deserve that.”

Sanders attorneys didn’t immediately respond to messages left Monday. In court filings, the lawyers said the confession should not be allowed at trial because he asked to talk to an attorney. Prosecutors, however, said Sanders only said he wanted to talk to a lawyer about a few particular questions, like why he killed the mother and child and what he was doing in Las Vegas.

“In sum, upon being arrested, defendant was properly advised of his constitutional rights, waived them, and agreed to be interviewed. It was his choice to speak or remain silent. When he spoke, he spoke voluntarily,” prosecutors wrote. “When he chose to remain silent by declining to answer four specific questions without first speaking to an attorney, the agents honored that choice and shifted the conversation to other topics.”

His lawyers see it differently, saying Sanders “”affirmatively and unequivocally stated in response to law enforcement questions that he wanted to talk to a lawyer.”

Sanders was indicted 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 have asked U.S. District Judge Dee Drell to dismiss the second indictment. They claim it creates 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.

Drell hasn’t ruled on that request.

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