sitemap The Sanders' Trial

The Sanders' Trial

Journalist James Sanders and his wife, Elizabeth, a flight attendant with TWA, were charged with felony theft for possessing a swatch of seat fabric from TWA 800 that they believed to be covered with rocket fuel residues.   James Kallstrom, who claimed "It's not rocket fuel. It never was rocket fuel, and it never will be rocket fuel," was not charged with felony theft for possessing a piece of fabric from TWA 800 that he donated to family members of the victims which apparently had "the sand of the sea on it".


The trial began in Uniondale, Long Island on April 5, 1999 and ended in a guilty verdict on April 13, 1999.  On July 16, 1999 Sanders was given three years probation and 50 hours of community service. His wife received one year probation and 25 hours of community service.

Cmdr. Donaldson helped with the defense of Jim & Elizabeth Sanders. Cmdr. Donaldson has been working since October following up the hundreds of leads generated by the NY Times advertisement and the 800 number. This has resulted in a significant amount of new information. Summary details of the new developments are outlined in a letter from Cmdr. Donaldson to the CEOs of Boeing and TWA. We now believe there is sufficient evidence to prove that the aircraft was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile and the FBI knew it from the start.  

Further information on the Sanders trial is available through the following links:

Events from April 1999 - Present  A question asked by the government prosecutor had to do with the location when the aircraft "got shot".    "I (Sanders) took 250 new photos of the plane and compared them with the NTSB shots taken in 1996 and 1997.   After comparing the before and after photos, I can tell you there are significant, very significant alterations in a key area of the plane."  Updates on trial

An article, the full text of which was published at, (link no longer available) summarized the events that preceded the trial ......

James Sanders, a freelance journalist, believes an indictment of him and his wife, Elizabeth, is a reaction to his theory that a missile caused the crash of TWA Flight 800. ..... It charges that they "knowingly conspired to remove, conceal and withhold'' two small pieces of seat cushion from the reconstructed cabin of TWA 800 .....  It was a heist pulled with inside help, the indictment says, a conspiracy hatched because James Sanders believed that a missile shot down the plane, and he wanted to have the pieces of cushion analyzed "for the presence of missile fuel exhaust.'' ......

"I felt strongly that the government had decided they weren't going to get at the truth,'' (Sanders) said. "So I decided to get involved. Obviously, to do anything you'd need a very good source on the inside.'' Terrell Stacey was TWA's 747 flight standards manager, a "check pilot'' who appraised and served as a mentor to other aviators. He flew regularly himself; his last flight before 800's crash had been on that very airplane, the day before. His experience made him a natural for the team investigating the wreck -- and, in Sanders' view, a most attractive source. "A real straight arrow,'' Sanders said of him. .... I did some checking, and word came back, `Don't even bother trying to talk to the guy. He is so company, there's no way he'd ever talk to you.' ''

Instead, Liz Sanders phoned Stacey at home in October 1996. Not surprisingly, the pilot was noncommittal about talking to her husband. He'd think about it, he said. "A ways later", Sanders said he called Stacey himself. "He said, `If you had called me even a week ago, I wouldn't have talked to you,' '' Sanders recalled, adding that Stacey told him that he'd since grown disenchanted with the inquiry's direction. "We agreed to meet and just discuss things,'' Sanders said. "So I jumped on a plane and flew up to Newark.'' Sanders knew before that meeting that investigators were reassembling the wrecked jet piece by piece in an old Grumman Corp. hangar at Calverton, Long Island. What he learned from Stacey, he said, was that the NTSB also was "building a road map of the accident,'' assigning a tag number to each piece of wreckage, recording exactly where it was found, and assembling a database with the information. When plotted on a map, the data would presumably show what parts of the plane hit the water first -- and investigators would have an important clue to where the accident began.

Stacey declined an interview for this story. He's a line captain flying 767s for TWA these days, and awaits sentencing on a misdemeanor charge for what followed that first meeting with James Sanders. ....., Sanders said, Stacey phoned to say he had a copy of the NTSB's debris data. He turned them over to Sanders the next day, at a Holiday Inn in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. Back in Williamsburg, Sanders "figured out a way to computerize the debris field on my trusty 486.'' Then, using a schematic of a 747-100, he plotted the order in which pieces left the plane. He reached a troubling conclusion: that wreckage fell first from just in front of the right wing, then from a band across the fuselage, "right across rows 17, 18 and 19.'' And that eight seconds after this first event, a second explosion ripped through the plane. Sanders theorized that the first blast had been a missile slicing through the fuselage, from right to left, and the second the detonation of the 747's center fuel tank. "I called Terry up, pretty excited,'' he remembered, "and said, `Boy, you've got to see this.' ''

That Nov. 24, Sanders visited Stacey in New Jersey. "I laid it out for him,'' Sanders said,"and when I got to the end of it, Terry Stacey said: `My God. There's a reddish residue on seats in that plane, and I'm pretty sure it's on the same three rows.' '' Stacey, who as part of the investigation team had clearance at the Calverton hangar, later reported back that "sure enough, it was rows 17, 18 and 19, the first rows to leave that plane,'' Sanders said. "He soon confirmed that it was on 14 seats.'' ..... The FBI affidavit says Sanders asked Stacey to get him some of the residue so that he could have it tested, and that Stacey "considered the request . . . for several weeks, ultimately deciding against obtaining the pieces. . . .Then, in January 1997, Liz Sanders phoned and "asked Stacey to obtain the samples,'' the affidavit reads. Shortly after speaking with her, the pilot strode into Calverton and tried to scrape some of the residue from the jet's seats, court papers say. Unable to do so, he cut two small chunks from the seats and walked out with them. James Sanders remembers the sequence of events differently. "Very quickly Terry agreed to obtain samples,'' he said of the period following their Nov. 24 meeting. "He made a couple of efforts, unsuccessfully, in December.''

....On Jan. 10, 1997, a package showed up at the Sanders home with two pieces of the wrecked airplane inside. Sanders said he took a swatch to West Coast Analytical Service of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., telling the lab that it was part of a wrecked Asian airliner. He concluded from the test results that the residue's ingredients were consistent with solid rocket fuel. "We got the elements, and did a little bit of work, and said: `Huh. As an amateur, it sure looks like'' a match, Sanders said. "We're not saying this is conclusive, dead-on, last word, this is the way it is. But it is consistent.'' That assessment is not unanimous. The lab later told the FBI that the "tests did not provide any conclusive evidence'' of rocket fuel, and that Sanders had been told as much. The FBI affidavit quotes Stacey as saying he was skeptical that the lab analysis pointed to a missile, and that he'd told Sanders so. And the government says its own tests showed that the residue was "consistent with a polychloroprene 3M Scotch-Grip 1357 High- Performance contact adhesive'' -- a glue used to fasten the foam cushions to the seat frames.

But Sanders was convinced that he had a smoking gun. .... The Press-Enterprise ... mentioned that Sanders had pieces of seat cushion from the hangar, which told the FBI that a trusted member of the Calverton team had snuck evidence off the plane. The FBI seized the couple's telephone records, looking for the insider, and suggested that Sanders meet with investigators. They met in April 1997 in New York, the agents demanding the identity of Sanders' source. He answered, through his attorney, that he was a member of the media and would not cooperate with the investigation. His assertion is at the heart of the case that is scheduled to unfold in the Uniondale, N.Y., federal courthouse .... Sanders argues that his status ... as an author makes him no different from any journalist supplied information by a source. .....

That June, Stacey acknowledged to the FBI that he was the insider. The agency's affidavit quotes him saying that he didn't learn James Sanders was working on a book until after he'd delivered the samples. The government issued warrants for the Sanderses' arrest on Dec. 5, 1997. When they turned themselves in, they were paraded with their hands cuffed behind their backs before TV news crews. ..... Stacey pleaded guilty that same month to a misdemeanor charge: theft of government property. He told the judge that he took the seat pieces of his own volition. Even so, a grand jury indicted the Sanderses in January 1998 of violating Title 49, Section 1155(b) of the U.S. Code -- taking, concealing or withholding parts of an aircraft involved in an accident without permission. ......

David Pitofsky, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the Sanderses, won't say whether the seat cushion swatches were similarly vital to the TWA 800 inquiry; the government won't say anything about the meat of the case, beyond what's already part of the public record. ..... The government says that both that claim and Sanders' missile theory are preposterous: Salinger and a host of other conspiracy theorists have not been prosecuted for their beliefs, and the FBI is confident the residue was glue. "It's not rocket fuel,'' FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said in November 1997. "It's not the residue of a rocket. Never was, never will be.''

And that is the essence of the trial - whether a journalist has a right to report to the public when he believes its government may by lying .....

March 10, 1997   The Press-Enterprise
Solid fuel to propel missiles is not an everyday commodity .... but the basic recipe remains the same ... "If you picked up a piece of the stuff it would look like hard rubberized material," .....James Sanders ...acquired a sample from TWA 800 seats embedded with red residue. He had the sample analyzed and is convinced laboratory tests reveal solid fuel left a telltale wake through the plane..... The rubber, in liquid form, is the base into which the fuel is mixed before being poured into a container where it hardens into the solid fuel. "The rubber bonds the material together so it doesn't fragment." (Note from website author: the reddish residue was apparently found imbedded in 14 seats of the aircraft from rows 17 - 19   Debris found closest to Kennedy Airport, and therefore ejected from the plane first, included seats from rows 17 through 19. The plane's front section broke off just forward of the residue trail).

Red residue on just 14 seats which is not on the other aircraft seats can lead one to search for "a logical explanation"...

March 10, 1997    The Associated Press
Newly disclosed evidence "points to a missile" .... the Press-Enterprise reported today. The evidence includes reddish residue found on several seat backs that laboratory analysis showed to be "consistent with solid missile fuel" ingredients. .... James Kallstrom ...confirming that the reddish residue was found on seats (denied) that it had anything to do with missiles. "There's a logical explanation but I'm not going to get into it," Kallstrom said.

Why not "get into it" if it is only 'glue' - but then is it logical to ask why is this 'glue' only on these 14 seats?

March 16, 1997    The Tribune Review
Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom ..... has categorically denied the Press-Enterprise claims that a red residue found on the plane's seats .....came from rocket fuel. The FBI chief says the residue is equally consistent with the chemical composition of the glue that held the aircraft's seats together. The sequencing report noted that wreckage found from the front of the plane's fuselage - including dozens of bodies and passenger seats from rows 17 through 19 - were ejected from the plane first ....The sequencing report demonstrated that more than 4,700 feet after this initial debris was found, the front section of the plane broke off and fell. At about that time, the center fuel tank erupted, causing the rest of the plane to spiral into the ocean. The trail of wreckage clearly shows that the initial event that caused the crash was not the explosion of the center fuel tank...... the FBI has only ruled out that a U.S. Navy ship or other government "asset" destroyed the American civilian airliner. If it was a missile, and if it was not fired by a U.S. ship, who did it?........

The government did not want that question asked as it might raise questions about other missiles having been fired at aircraft in the New York City metropolitan area (see A Tale of the Tapes).  So the government went on a witchhunt blessed by its chief law enforcement officer ...

October 1, 1997  The Press Enterprise
Federal investigators improperly seized phone records of a leading critic of the TWA 800 crash probe, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday. But now Attorney General Janet Reno has given her blessing to a new subpoena seeking a second batch of records from freelance journalist James Sanders. The new demand for phone records indicates the investigation is continuing into possible obstruction of justice charges against the man who reported the existence of red residue on fabric of seats recovered from the jumbo jet ...... Sanders' attorney, Jeff Schlanger of New York, said authorities had not consulted with him or his client about phone records before either subpoena. Sanders on Wednesday called the subpoenas "harassment." "I had and continue to have a constitutional right to investigate federal wrongdoing," Sanders said. Sanders, the author of the book "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," believes that a Navy missile struck the Paris-bound jetliner July 17, 1996. ... Sanders says evidence given to him by crash investigators showed that a missile with an inert warhead pierced the right side of the Boeing 747 and passed out the left side, breaching the center fuel tank in the process. The evidence included pieces of seat material embedded with a reddish residue that contained elements consistent with solid rocket fuel, according to independent non-government tests and analysts. .... Shortly after Sanders' information was published in The Press-Enterprise on March 10, the FBI disclosed it was investigating him for suspected obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence from an aircraft accident..... Sanders has co-authored two non-fiction books about missing American prisoners of war from 20th-century conflicts: "Soldiers of Misfortune" in 1992 and "The Men We Left Behind" in 1993. He has appeared before Congress as an expert witness about POW issues.

TWA's chief 747 pilot, who like James Kallstrom removed a piece of fabric from TWA 800's wreckage, was charged with theft ...

December 5, 1997    CNN Web posted at: 9:15 p.m. EST (0215 GMT)
TWA's chief 747 pilot, a TWA flight attendant and the author of a book about the TWA 800 crash have been charged with stealing pieces of the wreckage from the hangar where investigators reconstructed the Boeing 747. .... arrest warrants have been issued for James Sanders, author of "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," his wife Liz Sanders, a TWA flight attendant, and TWA pilot Terrell Stacey ... (Stacey) who as TWA's chief 747 pilot served as the airline's number two representative in the crash investigation, allegedly took documents and seat fabric from the wreckage at Liz Sanders' request. ....Stacey had access to the wreckage because he was involved with three crash investigation committees ..... "The FBI has spent millions creating a videotape and holding a lengthy press conference to make sure their theory got the public's attention," Schlanger (Sander's attorney) said. "Why are they moving to arrest a person, a man who holds that up to a little scrutiny?" According to the complaint .....Stacey eventually provided James Sanders with information and copies of reports on the crash investigation and pieces of fabric from some of the plane's seats. ..... According to the complaint, those seats had a reddish residue, unlike residue on other seats on the plane. ....The FBI says its tests show that the residue is an adhesive, but Sanders claims the FBI is involved in a cover-up. He says, "I think they really do know with some certainty what happened." .....

Kallstrom, who removed a piece of fabric from TWA 800's wreckage, was not charged with theft but then his piece was not covered with 'red residue' but only with "the sand of the sea" ...

August 12, 1996   People Magazine 
During a July 27 eulogy for Janet Christopher, Kallstrom presented her husband, Charlie, and the couple's only son, Charles, 12, with a small flag recovered from the submerged wreckage of Flight 800. "It's dirty. It has the sand of the sea on it," said Kallstrom.

Kallstrom was not worried about "sand" but apparently "glue" was a different matter ...

December 5, 1997    CNN Web posted at: 9:15 p.m. EST (0215 GMT)
FBI deputy director James Kallstrom sent a letter Wednesday to the National Transportation Safety Board asking that it not discuss the residue during its public hearings scheduled to begin Monday. He also asked the NTSB not to discuss other information the FBI uncovered in its investigation, such as the identify of eyewitnesses to the crash.

Guided by the wisdom of its Chairman, James Hall, the NTSB decided that a discussion of 'glue' at its hearings might take it into some 'sticky' areas and so it decided not to allow its hearings to be discredited with any 'tacky' subjects .....

December 5, 1997
Responding to pressure from the FBI
on the eve of the first public forum on the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the National Transportation Safety Board has canceled the discussion of eyewitness accounts and explosive residue at the five-day hearing into the cause of the crash. After an exchange of letters Wednesday between Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom and NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, the safety board eliminated scheduled sessions on the  (eyewitness) accounts .....the safety board also agreed to cut discussions of explosive residue found on the plane's seats during the hearings, which are set to begin Monday in Baltimore. In effect, the concessions redress all the objections set forth in Kallstrom's four-page letter to Hall. And it once again highlighted the discord between the two agencies. Despite the fact that the FBI publicly concluded their criminal probe of the July 17, 1996, crash in which all 230 passengers died, Kallstrom warned Hall away from "the use of any of the 244 eyewitness [accounts] ... or summaries prepared ... by the NTSB." And he said that experts scheduled to analyze the eyewitness testimony "could complicate our efforts if the criminal investigation were to be reactivated. Until the NTSB has definitively determined an accidental cause for the crash, I believe it is prudent to withhold from public disclosure or discussion the identities of witnesses and the raw investigative details of the criminal investigation," Kallstrom wrote in his letter. Since declaring that investigators found no evidence of sabotage in the tragedy, Kallstrom has consistently said the probe is not closed, opting to characterize it as inactive. In his letter to Hall, he conceded that the possibility of rekindling the criminal query is "remote." In a two-page response to the FBI objections, Hall told Kallstrom that he didn't "see any fundamental disagreement between our agencies." And while he said he would comply with the "general objections" he said he was "compelled to deny certain of your specific objections." Those elements were not spelled out in the letter however, and FBI officials could not be reached yesterday. Declining to comment further, Hall issued a statement yesterday, saying that he would honor the FBI's positions but that the NTSB would continue as planned to "discuss its work done outside the criminal investigative process -- including that work which overlaps in substance, such as wreckage documentation and the examination of any and all potential ignition sources."

And so the scene moved to Uniondale, New York...

January 20, 1998   CNN Web posted at: 11:52 p.m. EST (0452 GMT)
Uniondale, New York A couple accused of stealing wreckage from the investigation site of TWA Flight 800 pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday. Journalist James Sanders and his wife, Elizabeth, a flight attendant with TWA, are charged with felony theft for allegedly obtaining a swatch of seat fabric from the closely guarded hanger where the Boeing 747 was being reconstructed last spring. .... Even with the charges pending against him, Sanders remains committed to his theory that the government is covering up the accidental firing of a Navy missile at TWA Flight 800. His efforts to prove his point made headlines last March. Sanders, who was a police officer before he became a writer, tested seat fabric from the wreckage and claimed it showed residue of what could have been missile fuel. James Kallstrom, the former assistant director of the FBI who was involved in the crash investigation, has vehemently denied Sanders' claim. "It's not rocket fuel. It never was rocket fuel, and it never will be rocket fuel," he said. In December, Sanders, his wife, and Terrell Stacy, a TWA pilot assigned to assist in the crash investigation, all were charged with stealing the material from the hangar where the plane was being reconstructed. Stacy accepted a plea bargain and is expected to testify against Sanders and his wife. Sanders is planning a defense strategy based on the First Amendment. "I can't believe that any responsible journalist would not take the step and test the Constitution and take the material and have it analyzed," said Jeffrey Schlanger, Sanders' attorney. Sanders and his attorney insist the case is no different from others in which journalists base reports on restricted material. But one expert on free press issues says the First Amendment protects the right to publish but does not grant access to private or government property. Mary Cheh of Georgetown University Law School said the government's case against James and Elizabeth Sanders alleges that they stole government property. "That makes it an entirely different sort of a case," she said.

But the question still begs an answer - is the US Government lying about the residue and seeking to hide this fact by charging that there was theft of "government property".  The analyst who conducted the test for the government signed an affadavit saying he could not identify the red residue as being the type of glue that the government identified as coming from the aircraft ....

July 26, 1998    Flight 800 discussion list <FLIGHT-800@HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM> Michael Rivero AFFIDAVIT OF C.W. BASSETT
C.W. BASSETT, having been duly sworn, deposes and says: I am a chemist working for NASA, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida. In early 1997, Dr. Merritt Birky, in connection with the NTSB's investigation into the cause of the crash of TWA Flight 800 forwarded to me residue samples identified as being removed from seats that were recovered from the airplane's wreckage. Dr. Birky requested that I compare the chemical composition of those samples to 3M Scotch-grip 1357 HP adhesive. This affidavit is submitted to provide a general synopsis, in layman's terms, of certain aspects of the laboratory analysis I conducted, and general observations regarding the conclusions that can and cannot be drawn from them. Particularly since this subject entails technical matters of a complex nature, this affidavit does not attempt to discuss the full scope of the testing or conclusions drawn from it. The tests performed by me at NASA-KSC on samples Dr. Birky said were from rows 17, 19, 24 and 27 of the flight 800 cabin interior did not address the issue of origin of any reddish-orange residue. The tests I performed for the NTSB cannot answer such a question. The tests conducted by me at NASA-KSC did not identify specific elements, by quantity, within the reddish-orange residue of the sample submitted to them by Mr. Sanders. At NASA, we used Fourier-Transform Infrared ("FT-IR") spectroscopy to analyze the reddish colored samples provided by the NTSB. Since FT-IR is specifically a technique used fore characterizing by functional groups the molecular structure of organic materials, we would not be able to corroborate the presence of elemental compounds other than by subjective context. FT-IR does not objectively identify elemental quantity within a sample, which would be a necessary first step in determining 3M Scotch-grip 1357 adhesive is consistent with the other samples identified by specific elements. FT-IR analysis alone would not be my choice of tools to determine the presence of specific elements. To accurately identify, and to quantify, amounts of each constituent, one would need to employ a technique specifically designed to provide quantitative elemental analysis. In the course of my testing, I observed the color of 3M Scotch-grip 1357 HP adhesive under different conditions. The adhesive, when cured, is dark green to olive drab in color. Depending on degrees and intervals of elevated temperatures, the adhesive progresses towards a darker shade of green and then to varying shades of brown, mostly very dark in either case. I did not achieve a red coloration during my analysis of the residue. (signed) C.W. Bassett AFFIDAVIT STATE OF FLORIDA, COUNTY OF BREVARD. Before me this day personally appeared C.W. BASSETT who, being duly sworn, deposes and says the statements presented in the above affidavit are true and correct to the best of his knowledge. Sworn to and subscribed before me this 23rd day of July, 1998. (signed) Carolyn B. Pecquet NOTARY PUBLIC CC 523345.

There are advantages to having the government accuse one of a crime - one is allowed to examine evidence that otherwise one could not see ....

The Village Voice  February 24 - March 2, 1999
Author James Sanders, who wrote The Downing of TWA Flight 800 and who is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to steal evidence from the hangar (Voice, April 21, 1998), was permitted to photograph the fuselage reconstruction as part of pretrial discovery. He and his attorney first had to sign an agreement that they would not share any of the photos with the media, he told the Voice.  Sanders said that after examining the reconstruction he concluded that the NTSB has given a misleading impression of some of the damage. He mentioned, for example, a center tank partition that, according to the NTSB, sustained "accordion" damage, meaning "folding directly inboard" from the direction of the right wing. But Sanders said that the damage is far more extreme than the description suggests. "Spanwise beam two is crushed inward about eight feet from an external force— it's extraordinary when you see it in person," he said. (The NTSB suggests that the accordion damage was caused by water impact.)

Maybe Sanders should have brought a "psychic" to help him understand what he was seeing - the crushed spanwise beam may have been caused by an FBI agent with a hammer .....

November 26, 1998   The Washington Post
In September 1996, two months after TWA Flight 800 exploded off the Long Island shore, an FBI agent led a woman in cutoff jeans into the high-security hangar where the wreckage was stored. She surveyed the debris, then announced her conclusion: A bomb hidden in a suitcase near the left wing had destroyed the plane. She was wrong ..... but her error, according to Senate investigators reviewing the FBI's $20 million probe, was not surprising, considering her area of expertise. She was a self-described psychic. ........... Some were goofy but inconsequential, like .... the "military officer" who helped oversee helicopter landings near the hangar until he was exposed as a fraud in a costume. ..... In one misstep, according to NTSB witnesses, the FBI tried to store bloodstained clothing and other physical evidence in a refrigerated truck. But the refrigeration unit ran out of fuel over a hot September weekend, and the evidence baked for more than two days in 90-degree heat. By the time the problem was fixed, mold had grown all over it. The witnesses also reported that an FBI agent hammered two pieces of wreckage together in the hangar, and an FBI supervisor ripped metal fragments out of a seat cushion during an argument about their trajectory.

Maybe the wrong person is on trial?  Mr. Kallstrom on the program "TWA 800 - The Investigation" broadcast by The Learning Channel, tried to dismiss the whole missile scenario (terrorist and friendly fire) by holding up and knocking down 'strawmen' questions raised about the possibility of a friendly fire accident by the USS Normandy which was over a hundred miles from the scene:

"We are in the business of looking at all possibilities. We're not the Federal Bureau of the 'Obvious' - we are the Federal Bureau of 'What Could Have Happened' ...... I spent the night there in the command center - orchestrating - being the conductor of the symphony that was about to take on a major, major investigation". ... The missile theory was on the board the first night. We know there were missiles that were left in Afghanistan. We know that missiles have been stolen. Missiles were made to shoot airplanes down. So when you put the missile theory on the board now you are concerned about - Where did the missile come from? - ... We looked at the ordinance on the ship - the Normandy - it was all accounted for. And by the way the ordinance could not fly that far - we know exactly where the ship was - it was 185 miles south of the tragedy. The missiles can only go 100 miles, so technically it couldn't reach TWA. And guess what - if they fired a missile of that size, it would be obvious on radar because it is a big missile. And we wouldn't be looking at little holes in the plane the size of dimes and quarters. If a missile from the USS Normandy hit the plane it would demolish the plane and evidence, metallurgy evidence, would be everywhere. People wouldn't be looking at little pieces ten times and saying 'Jeez, I wonder' - it would slap you across the face."

But later he stated in a recorded telephone conversation with Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media that there were U.S. Naval vessels right under Flight 800 on a classified mission. (Click for RealAudio tape). Now for those of you still trying to figure out what the meaning of the word "is" is, I will leave you to sort this one out for yourselves.

April 16, 1999
Two things struck this reporter most during Day Four of the trial of James and Elizabeth Sanders: the very evident fear exhibited by government witnesses Terrell Stacey and Lee Taylor .... T.W.A. Captain Terrell Stacey seemed like a man from a story by Kafka as he took the stand .... .. Stacey had first taken the stand the day before and then was again on the stand through most of Thursday morning. He seemed like a man who had accepted defeat. The government's lawyer, David B. Pitofsky, a young man who handled his duties with a precision that was further complemented with numerous objections that were usually sustained, asked Stacey to refine testimony he had made on the previous day. Stacey had said he had taken the seat fabric on his "own volition," a statement that would seem to let the Sanders off the hook.

Pitofsky: "What does your own volition mean to you?"

Stacey: "It means I was accepting responsibility for my own actions."

Pitofsky: "Did you receive influence in this matter?"

Stacey: "Yes.... From James and Elizabeth Sanders."

As Stacey said this, he looked resignedly at Pitofsky; he did not glance to his left at the couple he had named.

Pitofsky: "Did you believe you were breaking the law?"

Stacey: "No."

Pitofsky: "Do you believe you were breaking the law today?"

Stacey: "Yes."

The defense played a tape recorded conversation between Sanders and Stacey. The recording had been made by Sanders. Stacey's voice was low and subdued. Sanders, who has, in fact, a made-for-radio voice, was clear. At no time did he specifically say that Stacey should bring him the seat fabric but that it would be great to have and that the two would have "to figure out how to do a handoff." ....." Stacey has pled guilty -- that was in December, 1997 -- but has not yet been sentenced. Maffeo brought out, and Stacey confirmed, that his sentencing is contingent on "testifying truthfully." Maffeo then asked was it not true that the party that would determine the "truthfulness" of that testimony would be the U.S. Justice Department, in other words, the very agency that had drawn the agreement with Stacey.

Maffeo's implication was plain. The attorney leaned toward Stacey and asked, "Were you pressured by Jim or Liz Sanders to take the residue?"

Faintly, like a man who had accepted he was doomed whichever way he turned, Stacey said, "No." ....

Maffeo continued: Was it not true that he, Captain Stacey, had been suspended for three months, since February, 1998 from T.W.A.? When Stacey replied that was true, Maffeo asked him how long he had worked with T.W.A.

Stacey said, "For 33 years." He added that in four years he must retire.

Maffeo asked were it not true that if he, Stacey, were suspended or fired, it would be at "significant financial cost to you and your family." In other words, not just his daily employment would be affected, but a pension due him after more than three decades.  It was poignant, it was pitiful. A few moments later the judge called the lawyers to the bench to confer after an objection had been raised. She flicked on the machine that creates a white noise so this conversation cannot be heard by the jury or spectators. Stacey looked ahead and drew slowly from a glass of water.

Pitofsky had his chance on redirect. Stacey was again brought to the agreement he has signed with the government. "Whose guilt or innocence was at issue that day?"

Stacey: "Mine."

Pitofsky asked Stacey if he accepted his "responsibility in this case?"

Stacey: "Yes."

The Sanders were found guilty of the charge.

April 13, 1999   The Associated Press
A reporter and his wife were convicted
Tuesday of stealing scraps of upholstery from the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 in an effort to prove his theory that the airliner was shot down by a Navy missile. A federal jury took two hours to convict James Sanders, 53, and his wife Elizabeth, 52, a former TWA training supervisor, of conspiracy and aiding and abetting the thefts. The couple from Williamsburg, Va., could get up to 10 years in prison when sentenced July 9.  ... The government's case relied heavily on the testimony of Terrell Stacey, a former TWA pilot who admitted helping Sanders by stealing crash-related documents and scraps of the seat covering from the hangar where investigators had reassembled the plane's wreckage.  Stacey, who had flown the plane the day before the crash and was assigned by TWA to assist in the investigation, testified against the Sanderses in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge. Sanders' attorney, Bruce Maffeo, said he will appeal. He 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.

April 14, 1999   New York Times
A Federal jury convicted a Virginia couple Tuesday of conspiring to steal evidence from the wreckage of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 to back up their theory that the jetliner had been hit by an errant Navy missile. The defendants, James Sanders, 53, the author of a 1997 book promoting the theory, and his wife, Elizabeth, 52, a former T.W.A. flight-attendant instructor, appeared stunned when the jury delivered its verdict after less than two hours of deliberation. The two were found guilty of conspiracy, as well as aiding and abetting in the theft of two small strips of passenger-seat fabric that contained a reddish-orange residue they said was left by a missile. They each face up to 10 years in prison when sentenced on July 9, but the assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, David B. Pitofsky, said that under Federal sentencing guidelines, they would probably be sentenced to far less time. As the couple left Federal District Court here this afternoon, Sanders said: "We were surprised by the verdict and that the jury rendered it so quickly. It can't help but send a strong and obvious message to journalists seeking to tell the truth." Mrs. Sanders, who clutched her husband's hand, said only, "We did nothing wrong." They remain free, each on $50,000 bail. Sanders's lawyer, J. Bruce Maffeo, said he planned to appeal, asserting that the court had not adequately addressed his argument that the couple's actions were protected by the First Amendment. "This verdict," he said, "has to be a chilling one for any journalist seeking evidence of the truth." But Floyd Abrams, a constitutional lawyer and First Amendment expert, said he was doubtful about such grounds for an appeal. "It's an extremely tenuous First Amendment claim, absent any extraordinary showing that the prosecution was engaged in the purpose of suppressing the book or some other purpose," said Abrams, who added that he was stunned to have received 500 postcards from supporters of the couple. The seven-day trial drew nearly a dozen conspiracy theorists, who insisted that the Sanderses were being prosecuted as part of a Government cover-up of the cause of the crash. In his book, "The Downing of T.W.A. Flight 800," Sanders contended that tests indicated the reddish-orange substance on the seat fabric was residue from missile exhaust -- evidence that the plane had been accidentally fired upon when it exploded only 12 minutes after taking off from Kennedy International Airport on July 17, 1996. The Government has yet to determine the cause of the crash, but has rejected the missile theory and says its tests show that the residue is fabric glue. The Sanderses, who live in Williamsburg, Va., were charged under a law approved by Congress in 1996, after the Valujet crash in Florida, that makes it illegal to remove, conceal or withhold parts of a civilian aircraft involved in an accident. But the actual theft of the seating material from a Government hangar in Calverton, N.Y., where the wreckage was being reassembled, was committed by Capt. Terrell Stacey, a T.W.A. pilot who, like Mrs. Sanders, knew many of the crew members who were among the 230 people who died in the crash. Captain Stacey appeared as the chief Government witness against the couple, testifying that the three of them had conspired to steal the evidence. He told the jury that Mrs. Sanders had pleaded with him to help provide evidence for her husband's investigation into the crash. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Captain Stacey pleaded guilty to theft of Government property, a misdemeanor. He faces up to a year in prison, but prosecutors are expected to recommend leniency when he is sentenced. During the trial, the prosecutor, Pitofsky, insisted that the case was not about what caused the plane to explode or about First Amendment rights, but "simply about the theft of wreckage from a civil aircraft involved in a crash." Judge Joanna Seybert agreed, barring testimony on those other issues. Pitofsky said today that he doubted that an appeal on First Amendment grounds would succeed. " Sanders published a book and no one stopped him from saying whatever he wanted to say," Pitofsky said. "And the jury understood that no responsible reporter would believe they could break into a place to get a story." The jurors, with the help of court officers, left the courthouse by rear exits and drove away without comment. One juror said as he was getting into his car: "All I want is to get home. We all agreed that we'd say nothing." Their verdict drew gasps from the supporters of the Sanderses in the courtroom. "They have been unfairly persecuted by the Government," said one of their supporters, Howard Mann, an airplane mechanic and pilot who worked for T.W.A for 40 years, as he waited for the couple in front of the courthouse. "They were only trying to inform the American people, and the Government wants it covered up."

June 18, 1999   Letter from Cmdr. Donaldson to Judge Seybert

Cmdr. William S. Donaldson, III - USN, Ret.
Aviation Mishap Analyst
P.O. Box 90, Clements, Maryland 20624
Web site:
June 18, 1999

Honorable Joanna Seybert
Uniondale Federal District Court
2 Uniondale Avenue
Uniondale, NY 11553

Your Honor,
This letter is offered as a friend of the court statement for your consideration prior to the sentencing of Elizabeth and James Sanders on 9 July 1999.

It is my finding after a two year independent investigation into the unexplained loss of TWA Flight 800 that the Boeing 747-100 was intentionally shot down and that Justice Department actions intimidating Congressman Traficant, prosecuting the Sanders and Captain Stacey, fit a clear pattern facilitating a White House cover-up.

On 6 May 1999 I was invited to testify before the House Aviation Subcommittee hearing into the Reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety Board. I argued, in the presence of the Chairman of the NTSB, James Hall, three points.
1) The NTSB leaderships should be replaced, 2) the NTSB should be reformed without political appointees, and 3) Title 18 and Title 49 of the US Code should be reformed to prevent future harassment and malicious prosecutions of Parties or their investigators. My written testimony is Attachment 1.

I brought into the hearing physical evidence (maps and FBI Operational Orders) of a covert missile recovery operation manned by FBI Agents and paid for by the NTSB. News coverage of that testimony is Attachment 2.

Congressman James Traficant's behavior during those proceedings was theatrically overblown praise for the FBI and NTSB, enough so as to derail meaningful discussion of my testimony. His inexplicable reversal from strong public supporter to irrational critic of our investigation prompted me to check his motives. What I found has a direct link to the Sanders case. Multiple Justice Department leaks of Mob affidavits tying Mr. Traficant's office to organized crime were released in his hometown precisely concurrent to the arrests of Sanders, Captain Stacey and the Baltimore NTSB Public Hearing in December 1997. Attachments 3, 4 and 5 are news coverage and letters to Chairman Duncan and Chairman Smith about Mr. Traficant.

A detailed discussion of the shootdown of TWA Flight 800 is well beyond the scope of this letter, but please be assured my credentials and career experience exceed those of anyone in the NTSB or FBI leadership positions. Ironically, my first crash investigation was the accidental missile shootdown of my assistant aircraft maintenance officer by Marine F4 Phantoms in 1977.


1. White House staff knew when Mr. Clinton signed the Iran/Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 that threats of war and retaliatory strikes against American interests from the Iranian Supreme Council were credible.

2. White House staff knew Iranian surrogates had already car bombed US troops at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November 1995. This act conveyed a warning not to sign the Sanctions Act. The White House also knew that shoulder fired missiles had been smuggled across our borders by January 1996.

3. White House staff knew Iran called a summit meeting in Tehran with terrorist surrogates from nine Mideast countries on 2 June 1996.

4. The White House failed to warn of, or prevent, Iranian attacks before they came. The first was against the Khobar Towers Air Force barracks complex in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996. The second was on TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996.

The White House justifiably believed a counterstrike against Iran would unleash a world wide terror campaign just before the 1996 elections and that public understanding of these events would jeopardize the Clinton/Gore reelection.


By the time of the NTSB Public Hearing, 8 December 1997, eighteen months after Flight 800 went down, the Justice Department was signaling that the Riyadh and Khobar Towers bombings were unsolvable due to lack of Saudi cooperation and the White House was scapgoating our own military commanders. The FBI had already declared the TWA loss a non-criminal event, illegally quashed the testimony of TWA witnesses, and illegally sealed indefinitely real evidence and laboratory testing.

At enormous expense, the NTSB political leadership had convinced a technically inept media that its nonsense mechanical failure theory was plausible. In early December 1997 three problems remained: 1) disgruntled inside investigators who might go public during the Baltimore Hearings, like Captain Stacey; 2) investigative journalist James Sanders who was talking to an interested producer, Oliver Stone; and 3) James Traficant, the sole Congressman looking into the Federal investigation who's questions were embarrassing the NTSB and FBI.

The Justice Department solved all three problems by taking direct action against those individuals between 5 and 12 December 1997.


The Sanders' conviction should be vacated and all felony stigma expunged because they were victims of a malicious prosecution undertaken to facilitate a political cover-up. Your Honor, the Constitution provides you immunity from political pressure through life tenure on the Federal bench. In cases like this, you are the people's lifeline, a constitutional check and balance with the power to stop in its tracks, politically motivated assaults on private citizens. In the TWA investigation the government has clearly acted as a partisan and proactive interested party, silencing witnesses, distorting facts and striking down its critics by all means available. Please restore the Sanders' full citizenship rights and rebalance the scales of justice.


The Sanders' conviction should be vacated because they were prosecuted outside the intent of Title 18. The statute is designed to protect aircraft crash debris from loss to souvenir hunters, scavengers or other parties whose pilfering would prevent qualified aircrash investigators from physical examination and laboratory analysis of real evidence. In this case the only scavengers or pilferers who were preventing qualified aircrash investigators from examination and laboratory analysis of real evidence were FBI agents acting without due regard for the controlling Federal Statute, Title 49 of the US Code. Testimony at Senator Grassley's hearing clearly proved that FBI agents were guilty of far more serious violations in removing evidence without authorization, evidence that remains missing to this day. Non response of the FBI to NTSB / Party Investigators was a constant impediment to progress. The FBI has no professional crash investigators.

Captain Stacey's transfer to James Sanders of a small sample of suspicious material for laboratory testing may have been overzealous, outside of normal protocol and actionable under Title 49 by sanctions such as being severed from the investigation. Prosecution under Title 18 for either man, however, is totally inappropriate because their actions were taken within the broad scope of a Title 49 aircrash investigator's mission, which is to develop evidence and to expeditiously discover the cause of an air disaster.


The Sanders' conviction should be vacated in order to restore Title 49 to the status intended by Congress. Allowing the Sander's and Stacey convictions to stand would set Judicial precedent subjecting Title 49 aircrash experts to the whimsy of the Justice Department and would render Title 49 authority moot.

This precedent is dangerous to public safety. Flight 800 was the first American Flag transport shootdown by shoulder fired missiles, but the 27th such shootdown worldwide. Masking the true cause of any aircraft loss is a compound hazard. In this case, failing to publicly identify the true cause allows the administration to avoid politically risky national defense responsibilities, leaving the threat in place. A second hazard occurs if operational or engineering changes are made based on false assumptions. These types of changes may actually degrade air safety margins.


The Sanders' conviction should be vacated to restore their 1st Amendment rights of free speech and free press. Although the Sanders' were charged under a statute, Title 18, intended to protect physical property, the Administrations actions in this prosecution clearly portray a different intent, suppression of information that by law should be in the public domain.

Sanders, a published investigative journalist, was given this material by a legitimate crash investigator with the express purpose of conveying vital information to the general public. As agreed, Sanders then analyzed and published the data gleaned from these worthless swatches of seat fabric. If the government is right and this seat fabric bears no evidence of a criminal act, then it is worthless to the investigation and its removal has caused no harm to the investigation. Their actions however, portray that the seat fabric was very important to the investigation, either because it did contain real evidence of a crime that they wanted suppressed or because Sanders embarrassed the government. Neither of these reasons warrants prosecution under Title 18.

Regardless of whether Sanders laboratory analysis was correct or if his published information was accurate or not the Government has no standing to punish him or anyone else exercising free speech or free press. Indeed, government agencies operating within constitutional constraints should be deaf to what private citizens say or publish.


The Sanders' conviction should be vacated to right the injustice of selective and prejudicial prosecution. Regardless of the outcome of the Sanders' case, an irrevocable punishment process began with the indictment. Defense costs, stress, loss of jobs and ultimately bankruptcy are imposed immediately.

Since the demise of the Jim Crow laws in the South, Americans have grown accustomed to equal treatment under the law. They do not expect to be selectively prosecuted for things other citizens are openly doing on a routine basis. This case is particularly egregious because the other citizens were the FBI. Agents routinely removed debris without following any semblance of protocol. Recent Senate testimony established that agents were actually caught by security in the act during early morning hours at Calverton.

The Deputy FBI Director who ordered the arrest of Captain Stacey and the Sanders' thought nothing of helping himself to debris for a public relations souvenir giveaway that was televised nationally.

Your Honor, you alone have the ability to right these wrongs. Regardless of what you believe about the fate of TWA Flight 800, you have to ask yourself, "why did the Justice Department go after these two people so rabidly?" Was it because they did real harm to the investigation or because they embarrassed the government? The government's actions is this case are completely out of proportion to the act committed by the Sanders and committed by others without penalty. I urge you to set aside this verdict and rebalance the scales of justice.

William S. Donaldson, III

The Honorable John J. Duncan, Jr. U. S. House of Representatives
The Honorable Lamar J. Smith, U.S. House of Representatives
District Attorney James M. Catterson, Jr. Suffolk County Office of the District Attorney
Mr. Philip M. Condit, The Boeing Company
Mr. Jerry L. Gitner, Trans World Airlines
J. Bruce Maffeo, Attorney at Law

July 16, 1999  Associated Press
A couple was sentenced Friday to probation for conspiring to steal bits of seat material from the reconstructed remains of TWA Flight 800....... 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 service. .... 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.''