THREE MONTHS after he was adjudicated a felon, a shamed and contrite Larry Mendte yesterday arrived at the U.S. District Courthouse to take a seat in the public stocks.
Soon, one of Mendte's ankles will be fitted with a snug electronic monitoring device. The disgraced anchor will wear it for the six months of house confinement to which he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin, along with three years of probation and a $5,000 fine for obsessively and illegally reading the e-mails of his former co-anchor, Alycia Lane. She attended the somber sentencing that began at 2:58 p.m., two minutes ahead of schedule.
It's almost as if the court couldn't wait to rid itself of this tragicomedy in which one rich, famous celebrity tried to destroy another.
Despite some catnip-for-tabloid flaws, Lane was clearly the victim here. She arrived at the courthouse about 2:30 with DJ boyfriend Chris Booker and lawyer Paul Rosen, and embraced a group of family and friends on Market Street before entering the building.
She was seated in the front row when Mendte entered the courtroom and he gave her a brief look, followed by a tight smile for his supporters. All 100 seats in the courtroom were taken - by reporters, supporters on both sides, and a few of the curious without affiliation.
During his remarks in court, Mendte said that he was glad that she was there so he could apologize to her personally. He twisted from the podium facing the bench to say, "I am sorry for what I did." I couldn't see her expression.
Mendte told the court, "I am ashamed."
After sentencing, I cornered Mendte for a brief, exclusive chat.
He had escaped jail, the sword of Damocles that had been hanging over him for months. I asked him if he felt that a weight had been lifted.
"In many ways, yes, but I still have a weight to carry," he said.
"From the beginning I took responsibility for what I did and I knew there was going to be a punishment and I took responsibility," he said. "I never shirked my responsibility.
"Judge McLaughlin gave a fair sentence and I think what she was giving me in her sentence was a second chance," Mendte said.
"I am going to relish the second chance, and I am going to do everything to earn back the respect and the trust that I lost."
In court, Mendte's wife, Fox 29 anchor Dawn Stensland, spoke on his behalf and she, too, apologized to Lane, looking her square in the eye.
"There is nothing but sadness and sorrow," she said, her voice breaking as she fought back tears.
Mendte's attempt at a confession in August, during which he claimed an "unprofessional and improper relationship" with Lane, "got twisted in the media," Stensland said. "He was 100 percent sincere."
It came as no surprise that lawyer Rosen, speaking for Lane at a news conference after the sentencing, did not accept Mendte's apology and questioned its sincerity. That's his right.
Me, I'm not so sure.
I imagine myself as Mendte, walking into court as a felon, hearing myself called small and detestable, passing through a gaggle of cameras and reporters as I tried to leave the building. I'd be sick in my stomach.
I'd be regretting my own insanity that cost me my career, my handsome salary, the respect of my peers and the community.
Yes, I'd be sorry. Wouldn't you? *