Sanders Sentence

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) - A couple was sentenced Friday to probation for
 conspiring to steal bits of seat material from the reconstructed remains of
 TWA Flight 800.
 James Sanders, 53, a self-styled investigative reporter, and his wife
 Elizabeth, 52, had faced up to 10 years in prison.

 ``I feel much better now,'' Mrs. Sanders said outside the courtroom, a day
 before the third anniversary of the explosion that killed 230 people aboard
 the Paris-bound flight.

 Sanders, author of the 1997 book ``The Downing of TWA Flight 800,'' was
 given three years probation and 50 hours of community service. His wife, a
 former TWA employee, received one year probation and 25 hours of community

 The two were convicted in April of stealing evidence from a civil aircraft
 crash site or wreckage.

 The prosecutor argued that Sanders conspired with his wife and a former TWA
 pilot, Terrell Stacey, to take seat fabric in December 1996. Stacey pleaded
 guilty to a misdemeanor in the case.

 Defense attorney Bruce Maffeo tried to blame the government for the Sanders'
 actions. He said the couple had a First Amendment right to take the swatches
 and stolen crash-related documents to expose a government cover-up.

 ``Three years ago tomorrow this tragedy occurred,'' Maffeo said before
 sentencing, ``and the government has yet to come up with a conclusive cause
 to this crash.''

 In his book, Sanders claimed that the U.S. Navy mistakenly shot down the
 jetliner. He believed the swatches were stained with missile fuel residue.
 The FBI said the stains were from glue.

 Investigators believe a fuel-air explosion in the plane's empty center fuel
 tank caused the catastrophe.

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