'Dead' Man Sentenced to Death for Kidnapping, Killing

By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 30, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Mississippi man who was previously declared legally dead was sentenced to death on Friday. No, he's not a zombie (that would be "undead"), he was just missing for so long that a court declared him dead.

Thomas Sanders, 57, was declared dead in 1994 after he'd abandoned his family in 1987. However, that wasn't to say that he was exactly lying low. The Associated Press reports that a federal jury convicted Sanders for the kidnapping and death of a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl in 2010.

How did lawyers resurrect Sanders, only for jurors to return the death penalty?

Another Not-So-Dead Person

As Miracle Max said in "The Princess Bride," there's "a big difference between mostly dead and all dead." The same goes between being legally dead and all dead. Legally dead still means possibly alive, and this isn't the first time a living person was declared legally dead. An Ohio man was also declared dead in 1994 (it was a good year for declaring people dead), and despite his being actually alive, an Ohio judge ruled he was too late to overturn the ruling.

In Sanders' case, he was very much alive when he was picked up in Gulfport, Mississippi, by police in November 2010 with both a knife and gun that matched the weapons used to kill the 12-year-old girl and her mother. The AP reports that Sanders confessed to the killings, with prosecutors alleging that Sanders held the young girl captive for days after seeing her mother killed.

Kidnapping that leads to the death of a victim is one of the various federal crimes that would make a defendant eligible for the death penalty. And despite the legal confusion around Sanders being dead, a federal jury in Louisiana determined that the death penalty was appropriate given Sanders' crime.

'Dead' Man Waiting

Although Sanders has been sentenced to death, he isn't likely to see his execution tomorrow. Ironically, many individuals spend decades waiting for their sentences to be fulfilled on death row. Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights told The Huffington Post that "[m]en have lived up to 28 years on Louisiana's death row."

Sanders is on federal death row with a handful of other federal inmates, three of whom have been on death row since 1993, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. So Sanders may be waiting a while until he's "all dead."

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