Thomas Steven Sanders, Once Ruled "Legally Dead," Arraigned in La. Murder-Kidnapping Case

Thomas Steven Sanders, left, Lexis Roberts, right.
FBI New Orleans/ KLAS
Thomas Steven Sanders, left, Lexis Roberts, right.
Thomas Steven Sanders, left, Lexis Roberts, right (FBI New Orleans/ KLAS)

ALEXANDRIA, La. (CBS/AP) A Las Vegas man who the law declared dead in 1994 has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old girl whose body was found in Louisiana in October.

Fifty-three-year-old Thomas Stevens Sanders is accused of kidnapping and killing Lexis Roberts. If convicted of either charge, who could face the death penalty. He is accused of bringing Lexis from Arizona to Louisiana and shooting her with a .22-caliber rifle.

He entered the not guilty plea Friday.

Lexis and her mother, 31-year-old Suellen Roberts, reportedly traveled with Sanders over the Labor Day weekend last year. Sanders is also suspected in Roberts' death.

Sanders was declared legally dead in Mississippi in 1994. His wife divorced him in 1988 accusing him of "habitual, cruel and inhuman treatment." In July 1994 Sanders' parents, brother and ex-wife petitioned a Mississippi court to have him declared dead so that his children could receive death benefits, though it is not clear if they did.

Despite being declared dead, Sanders was able to move around the country with ease either using his real name, pseudonyms, or nicknames. According to investigators, Sanders lived in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Nevada, working as a laborer, a welder and scrap metal collector.