FALLEN CBS 3 anchor Larry Mendte finally came face-to-face yesterday in a federal courtroom with his former co-anchor Alycia Lane - whose e-mails he illegally hacked - and issued a dramatic apology.
"I am sorry for what I did," said Mendte, who had been addressing U.S. District Judge Mary A. Mc-Laughlin during his sentencing hearing but turned around to speak directly to Lane.
Lane - who was also fired during the string of bizarre, tabloid-fired scandals that engulfed the Philadelphia TV newsroom - sat next to her lawyer, Paul Rosen, in the first row of the court gallery as Mendte spoke.
"I know what I did and I know it was wrong," he told her.
The apology came way too late to save Mendte from the sting of a federal felony conviction, but the 30-year broadcast veteran did walk out of the courtroom with a relatively light sentence.
Mendte escaped jail time but has suffered the loss of his career and reputation, McLaughlin said.
He will serve six months of house arrest in his Chestnut Hill home, three years of probation and 250 hours of community service. He was ordered to stay away from Lane, undergo computer monitoring and a psychological evaluation, and to pay a $5,000 fine.
Lane - who arrived at the courthouse hand-in-hand with her beau, former Q102 morning host Chris Booker, and was greeted outside by her mother and other family members - did not speak to the court.
But Rosen told a packed news conference afterwards that the apology didn't go nearly far enough.
"I don't think she will ever accept that apology until her life is restored from what he did to her," Rosen said. "What he did was methodical, intentional, deceptive, mean-spirited and took every chance he could to try and have her face incarceration for a crime she didn't commit."
Mendte, 51, pleaded guilty in August to one count of illegally accessing Lane's e-mail account and passing along the correspondence to media outlets such as the Daily News and the New York Post, prosecutors said.
The material included information on Lane's romantic life - including a notorious episode involving a bikini picture mailed to a married sportscaster - and news of a run-in with New York cops. Lane is suing CBS 3 and Mendte, as well as the Daily News, for coverage of the material contained in the e-mails.
Yesterday, Hollywood screenwriters couldn't have come up with a more dramatic scenario for a finale than what played out in court.
The standing-room-only courtroom included large entourages of supporters for both Lane and Mendte. She wore a gray sleeveless dress, a black jacket and a powder-blue Burberry scarf. Mendte wore a dark suit and a royal-blue tie. Lane's mother and her sisterwere among the supporters.
Mendte's wife, Fox 29 anchor Dawn Stensland, her parents, his three sisters, a brother and two adult children were also in court.
Stensland testified about her husband's character and the 70 letters of support sent to the judge. She rejected the public portrayal of him "as some kind of a Jekyll and Hyde character."
"He's just a man, a good man, a very good man who did a bad thing and he is sorry," said Stensland.
"A day doesn't go by that he doesn't say to me, 'Dawn, I'm so sorry,' " said Stensland, the only person to speak for Mendte. Her husband, the father of her two toddlers, is not just "sorry to me and for what he did to our family and to the community . . . he's sorry for what he did to you, Alycia."
Stensland looked straight at Lane and continued, weeping: "I want you to know, Alycia, how sorry he is, and I hope that you can look into my eyes and know that in our home there is nothing but sadness and sorrow over this."
When Stensland stepped down from the stand and headed to her gallery seat, Mendte stood up from the defense table to embrace, then kiss, his wife.
After the hearing ended, Stensland said that she made eye contact with Lane during that exchange, but when asked about Lane's reaction, the anchor said, "You'll have to ask her."
After Stensland's statement, Mendte's lawyer, Michael Schwartz, addressed McLaughlin, saying that his client's action was a "serious and inexcusable offense," but that he immediately accepted responsibility and showed remorse and shame. Mendte also cooperated with law-enforcement officials, Schwartz said.
Mendte then spoke for himself.
"When I look back to the story of my life, I can't believe it has brought me to this moment," he said. "I am ashamed.
"I am grateful that Alycia Lane is here today, because it gives me the opportunity that I didn't have before, and that is to apologize to her personally. And Alycia, I am sorry for what I did."
Letters of support for Mendte had been sent to the court by his therapist; his colleagues, such as NBC 10 sports director and anchor Vai Sikahema; and even Ben Franklin portrayer Ralph Archbold.
"I hope the court will consider Larry's entire life and recognize that this situation was an isolated case borne of insecurities and short-comings," Sikahema said. *