|Pair convicted in theft of
TWA crash evidence
UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) - A federal jury convicted
self-styled investigative writer James Sanders and his wife
on Tuesday of stealing evidence from the crash of TWA
Flight 800 in an effort to prove his theory that the jetliner
was shot down by a Navy missile.
Jurors deliberated two hours before returning the verdict
against Sanders, 53, and his wife Elizabeth, 52, a former
TWA training supervisor, for conspiracy and aiding and
abetting the thefts. They face up to 10 years in prison
when sentenced July 9.
It was a victory for federal authorities, who prosecuted the
Williamsburg, Va., couple under a law passed after an
earlier air crash in Florida, making it a crime to take
evidence from a crash site or the collected wreckage of a
All 230 people aboard perished when the Boeing 747
jumbo jet blew up off the shore of Long Island on July 17,
1996, just minutes after leaving Kennedy Airport for Paris.
The government, rejecting sabotage or terrorism, says the
plane was destroyed by a fuel tank fire of as-yet unknown
James Sanders' attorney, Bruce Maffeo, said he will
appeal the verdict, which he said "sends a chilling message
to those involved in controversial stories."
"We believe there are a number of serious First
Amendment issues to be resolved and hopefully in the end
he will be vindicated," Maffeo said.
Sanders was "a journalist trying to get the truth out," and
made no attempt to hide the fact that the evidence was
passed to him. "He wrote it in his book. He never shied
away from that," the lawyer said.
"I'm shocked," Sanders said in a telephone interview after
the verdict. "I'm confident we will prevail. I'm more
shocked for my wife, Liz."
Sanders said he "wouldn't have started down this road if I
wasn't prepared to go to jail. It sends an incredible strong
message to journalists."
Sanders said he bore no hatred toward former FBI
assistant director James Kallstrom, who headed the crash
probe, but still differed as to the cause of the crash. "I still
feel this was a missile and I still feel this was a coverup,"
Mrs. Sanders said, "This whole thing has been a tragedy
from beginning to end. Flight 800 affected everyone at
TWA and nobody who worked there will ever forget it."
Kallstrom, since retired from the FBI, said he took "no
satisfaction in the misfortunes" of those convicted, but "it is
important that law enforcement investigate crimes
unfettered by individual agendas and without interference
that could alter the rule of law."
Kallstrom added, "It is preposterous to believe a massive
conspiracy and coverup is taking place" in the TWA
The government's case relied heavily on the testimony of
Capt. Terrell Stacey, a former veteran TWA pilot who
admitted helping Sanders by stealing crash-related
documents and scraps of reddish-stained seat covering
from the Long Island hanger where the plane's wreckage
was reassembled by investigators.
In newspaper articles and a 1997 book, "The Downing of
TWA Flight 800," Sanders claimed the stains were from
missile fuel residue, bolstering his shootdown theory. The
FBI said the stains were from glue.
Stacey, who had flown the jetliner on its return from Paris
the day before the crash and was later assigned by TWA
to assist in the investigation, testified against the Sanderses
in exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor theft
Defense attorneys tried to show Stacey acted out of
personal concern that the investigation was going astray
and the FBI was withholding key information from
National Transportation Safety Board investigators with
whom Stacey worked.