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Reporter Amita Sharma on Wade Sanders Sentencing

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GLORIA PENNER: Wade Sanders is a former military adviser to Bill Clinton and a local war hero, but his live and reputation took a dramatic turn this week when he was convicted of child pornography. KPBS reporter Amita Sharma has been covering the story. So Amita, he was convicted of one count of child pornography. Why is this an important news story to the community? AMITA SHARMA: Well, it's an important news story for San Diego and really, everywhere. Sanders may have been sentenced but the victims in this case continue to be victimized. Child pornography, as you know, is a multi-billion dollar industry. The prosecutor in this case read a victim impact statement from one of the girls portrayed in the video that Sanders viewed. She's 19 now, she was 10 years old when these videos were taken of her. And she said that whenever she is told about how many people have viewed these images of her being raped by her father, her pulse stops. She is terrified that people derive enjoyment out of this. GLORIA PENNER: But this isn't the Wade Sanders that the public has come to know. AMITA SHARMA: Oh it absolutely isn't. The Wade Sanders that the public has come to know is a war hero. This is somebody that has earned not just a purple heart but a bronze star, a silver star for galantry, heroism in the Vietnam War. This is the guy who is the former assistant deputy secretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration. This is somebody who was committed to Veterans Affairs. You and I know him as a very astute commentator for KPBS Television. We talked to him about Blackwater, you talked to him about Abu Ghraib, we talked to him about national politics. GLORIA PENNER: And he was trusted, not only trusted by those people he spoke to in the press but also by the significant members of our community, in the national community, that came out to support them. Who were they? AMITA SHARMA: Well, Monday was the sentencing and very prominent people, as you said, showed up. Former Congresswoman Lin Shank was there. Her husband C Hugh Freeman who is a professor of law at USD was there. There were former veterans there, colleagues, people who were relatives of his, they spoke on his behalf. Some of them knew about the details of this case and other didn't seem to. One man spoke in his favor in court and said, you know, he viewed this child pornography out of curiousity. It's not like he downloaded it, it's not like he kept it on his computer -- but in fact, he did just that. GLORIA PENNER: And there were letters of support as well. AMITA SHARMA: There were letters of support, again, from very well-known political leaders in this country. Senator John Kerry who was a friend of Wade Sanders, they served in Vietnam together, said that he didn't know the particular details of this case, but that he thought that Wade Sanders service to this country should be weighed in the judge's sentencing. GLORIA PENNER: And yet there was a discrepancy found in one of those letters and you reported about that. AMITA SHARMA: Yes, this is sort of an interesting sidebar to the story. Bernie Jones is an opinion page editor at the Union Tribune. He did write a letter of support for Wade Sanders, whom he considers a friend. He learned on Sunday that the letter had been changed in what he said were very considerable terms. And so he wrote another letter to the judge on Monday saying that he never said that there would be no purpose in Wade Sanders serving any sentence as a letter that was finally submitted to the judge said. He had just said he didn't think there would be any purpose in him serving a long sentence. He also never addressed whether Wade Sanders should be registered as a sex offender and yet the letter that was submitted to the judge did say that. GLORIA PENNER: Now you've covered many court cases as our legal affairs reporter and now our investigative reporter. From your experience, what distinguishes this case from some of the others you've reported on? AMITA SHARMA: Well, some of it I alluded to in my first answer, which is that the victims in this continue to be victimized. But you know, we tend, society tends to think that people who engage in this kind of misconduct wear trench coats with fedora hats and lurk in dark shadows. But the truth is that they are your neighbors, they are your teachers, and in this case, this is a former high-ranking government official who also happens to be a lawyer. GLORIA PENNER: Do you expect there's going to be an appeal? AMITA SHARMA: He cannot appeal to this case, he has waived his right to appeal this case. GLORIA PENNER: And so he goes to prison. AMITA SHARMA: He goes to prison. GLORIA PENNER: Ok, well I thank you very much, Amita Sharma. AMITA SHARMA: Thank you.

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