Dawn’s Dark Days

As her husband, Larry Mendte, was pleading guilty to federal cyber crimes and telling the world he’d had an “improper” relationship with Alycia Lane, Fox 29 anchor Dawn Stensland had to hold it together so she could report the news every night on TV. Now, in an exclusive interview, Stensland speaks out about the e-mails she discovered, her recent miscarriage, why she’s been able to forgive her husband, and why she can’t yet forgive herself

FOR MUCH OF the past year, two names have been on the lips of gossip-loving Philadelphians: Larry and Alycia. The soap opera-ish saga of the two former CBS 3 co-anchors — including Alycia’s arrest in an altercation with a New York City cop in December 2007 (the charges were later dismissed) and her subsequent firing by CBS 3; the stunning revelation that Larry had hacked into her e-mail accounts and had been reading her private messages for at least two years; and his statement that the two had grown “a little too close” — has dominated headlines, blog posts and watercooler conversations for nearly 14 months. Throughout, though, one player intimately involved in it all hasn’t been heard from: Larry’s wife of eight years, Fox 29 anchor Dawn Stensland.

“Everybody goes through tough times in their marriage,” she says, sitting in a Center City office where she’s agreed to talk publicly for the first time about what she’s been through. It’s been 10 days since Larry was sentenced to six months of house arrest, and Dawn is feeling relieved. She looks more delicate here than the Dawn on TV, dressed casually in a turtleneck sweater and wearing so little makeup that the tiny freckles on her cheeks show, which makes her appear much younger than 44.

To say that the past year has been trying for her is an understatement. Not only has Dawn seen her marriage strained and watched her husband lose his career, his dignity and his freedom, but as she reveals for the first time, she suffered a miscarriage in October. “We were devastated,” she says. And last week, just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, her 11-year-old dog Buddy was diagnosed with cancer. Through it all, Dawn has had no choice but to put on a brave face, reporting the news on TV every night, facing a city that was privy to some of the darkest details of her life. But now, Dawn wants to tell her own story. And it is just that — her story, her point of view, the past five years as she experienced them.

Last August, Larry, 51, stated publicly that he and Alycia, 36, had had “a flirtatious, unprofessional, and improper relationship.” Today, Dawn says she believes Larry when he says the relationship between him and Lane was inappropriately close, and included kissing, but the two did not have sex. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an enormous amount of pain.

“I hope there’s some good that somebody can garner from this,” she says. “To just gain strength. And be empowered.”

TWELVE YEARS AGO, Dawn Stensland was wondering what she should do about this Larry Mendte guy she’d just started dating. They’d known each other for four years, ever since she showed up at WBBM in Chicago, 28 years old and ready for her first big break as a reporter. Larry had been hired the year before to be the station’s high-profile investigative reporter.