Standing contritely yesterday before a federal judge who held his fate, former CBS3 news anchor Larry Mendte apologized directly to Alycia Lane for hacking into her e-mails and spreading rumors that helped get her - and ultimately him - fired.
Lane, 36, sat about 15 feet from Mendte, 51, listening stonily as he told U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin how sorry he was.
Only once did Lane appear to lose her composure: When Mendte, her former co-anchor, turned and faced her, her lower lip began to quiver.
"I'm grateful that Alycia Lane is here so that I can apologize to her in person," Mendte said. "I'm also sorry that you did not believe that my public confession was sincere."
The tense, emotional moment struck some as overstated considering Mendte's sentence: six months of house arrest.
Lane said nothing - in court or later - about the events that led to her Jan. 1 firing, though she submitted a confidential victim-impact statement to the judge.
Mendte's "public confession" comment referred to the unusual news conference he held after pleading guilty in August to a felony charge of hacking into Lane's e-mail accounts. He went before the cameras and said he had had a "flirtatious, unprofessional and improper relationship" with Lane.
Mendte, who is married to Fox29 anchor Dawn Stensland, said his once-close relationship with Lane turned into a "personal feud" after Stensland confronted him about Lane on New Year's Day 2005 and he told her the truth.
When he began distancing himself, Mendte said, Lane became angry and tried to undermine his standing with station management.
At the time of Mendte's public announcement, Lane's attorney, Paul Rosen, called his statement an attempt to "blame the victim" and threatened to sue if Mendte suggested that he and Lane had had an affair.
Rosen has filed suit for Lane against Mendte and CBS3, as well as the Philadelphia Daily News and columnist Dan Gross for their purported roles in spreading information Mendte leaked to them. The Daily News is owned by Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., which also publishes The Inquirer.
Rosen said after yesterday's hearing that he was pleased with the sentence because "it did 100 percent of what the court could do. He'll be under constant government supervision. She was real serious and made it clear that he did harm to a victim. It's a fair sentence and sends a message to future generations."
In addition to six months of electronically monitored house arrest, the judge sentenced Mendte to three years of probation and 250 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine by year's end.
McLaughlin also ordered Mendte to stay away from Lane and continue psychological counseling. She also ordered monitoring of his personal computer by federal authorities so he cannot install software or hardware that enables him to read another's e-mail.
Mendte stood listening solemnly as McLaughlin imposed sentence. The judge said she chose house arrest rather than prison because of Mendte's record of charitable work and because she believed he was truly remorseful.
Yesterday's hearing was packed to capacity, attended by more than 60 friends and relatives of Mendte, including his three sisters and brother; his son, Jonathan, 24, and daughter, Stacia, 25; and Stensland's parents from Illinois.
Lane sat in the front row of the courtroom behind the table of Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy, with Rosen and her criminal attorney, David W. Smith; her boyfriend, radio personality Chris Booker; and her sister and parents.
Stensland entered court and, as she walked by Lane, smiled at her. Lane nodded in response.
Stensland was the only witness called to testify by defense attorney Michael A. Schwartz. At times breaking into tears, Stensland asked McLaughlin "for mercy for my husband, Larry."
Stensland also addressed Lane, saying, "A day doesn't go by when he says, I'm sorry, Dawn, for what I did to you and for what he did to you too, Alycia.
"I hope you can look into my eyes," Stensland said, craning her neck from the witness stand to try to make eye contact with Lane. "There's nothing but sorrow and nothing in Larry's heart but complete regret for what he did to you."
Levy did not recommend a sentence, part of the government's agreement to Mendte's guilty plea.
Still, Levy called Mendte's remorse "acceptance of responsibility with a but."
Not only did Mendte hack into Lane's e-mails from March 2006, Levy said, but he continued after she was fired on Jan. 1. Among the 500 e-mails Mendte admitted reading since Jan. 1 were confidential correspondence with her lawyers.
"He tried to put her in the position he finds himself in today," Levy added.
Mendte agreed: "When I look back on the story of my life, I can't believe it brought me to this moment. I am ashamed."