Appeal briefs filed in case of man on death row for 2010 murder of girl in Catahoula Parish

ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Federal public defenders representing a Las Vegas man on death row who kidnapped and murdered a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl in Catahoula Parish back in 2010, have submitted their brief for an appeal aimed at getting his conviction and sentence reversed.

Appeal briefs have been filed in the death penalty case of Thomas Steven Sanders, the man who murdered a 12-year-old girl from Las Vegas in Catahoula Parish in 2010. (Source: KALB)

Thomas Steven Sanders, 61, is on death row in the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana after his 2014 conviction in federal court in Alexandria in the Western District of Louisiana.

Sanders was sent to death row after he was found guilty of the 2010 murder and kidnapping of Lexis Roberts, 12, of Las Vegas, Nevada in Catahoula Parish near Harrisonburg.

Details around his trial were unusual. Sanders had been declared legally dead in 1994 after going missing in 1987. He resurfaced some time after in Las Vegas and began dating Suellen Roberts, 31, the mother of Lexis.

In the summer of 2010, the three planned a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Sanders admitted to shooting and killing Suellen Roberts in Arizona with a .22-caliber rifle and leaving her body near an asphalt pit along a highway. Sanders then took Lexis to Louisiana to Catahoula Parish where he shot her four times and slashed her throat on Boothe Cemetery Road. During the trial we learned that Sanders had a connection to Catahoula Parish, most of his mother's family is buried there and he spent time there as a child. He was eventually captured in Mississippi.

The federal case revolved around the death of Lexis, because the crime of interstate kidnapping landed it in a federal jurisdiction. The murder of Suellen remained as a state case in Arizona.

In their appeal, attorneys for Sanders make a series of claims including that the district court abused its discretion in failing to hold a competency hearing for Sanders, who they say has a "long history of irrational behavior consistent with mental disease." They also argue that it was "inflammatory" to read passages from the little girl's journals, that the indictment was "multiplicitious," and that there are "no legitimate factors" to explain why Sanders was "singled out" for the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana has submitted its arguments aimed at keeping Sanders on death row.

They make several claims including that the court correctly denied suppressing statements Sanders made following his arrest in Mississippi, they also argue that the indictment against Sanders was not "multiplicitious" and did not violate the double jeopardy clause, and that evidence was "sufficient" to support his conviction for kidnapping.

The attorneys for Sanders are asking for oral arguments in the Fifth Circuit for the appeal. There's no word yet on when those will be set.

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