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

Dawn didn’t sleep all weekend, and cried through most of it. Dawn’s mom suggested that the whole thing seemed biblical. Like Job. Like they were being tested. But that didn’t make it any easier for her.

“I felt like an idiot,” she says. “How can you not know your husband is looking in someone’s e-mail file? How can you not know the other things?”

The following Monday, she had to go to work at Fox 29, where they’d been covering this story like the big news it was. She went to the office of general manager Mike Renda.

“She told me, ‘Look. I’m here to do my job,’” Renda says. “And I told her, ‘That’s what we want you to do.’” Of course, she recused herself from covering the news about Larry. But she had to be on the air in front of tens of thousands of people who’d just found out that her husband had been accused by the feds of hacking into his co-anchor’s e-mails and leaking information from them to the newspapers.

That night, Larry’s sister, who lives in the area, sent Dawn an e-mail: “I tuned in to see if you were there and I saw that you were and it let me know that everything was going to be okay.” Dawn thought: As long as I’m on-air, maybe that’s my statement. That life goes on.

And so every night, she was on the air.

She was on the air the day she walked into Starbucks and broke into sobs when a patron recognized her and asked how she was doing. And the day she came home to find a parade of news vans outside her house, including one driven by her good friend from work, Mark LaValla, because the stations had received tips that Larry was going to be arrested that day. (He wasn’t.) And on the day Larry lost his job.

She was on the air the day Larry was officially charged with logging onto Alycia Lane’s accounts beginning in March 2006 — accessing those accounts more than 500 times from January 2008 to May 2008 alone. But, perhaps most difficult of all, she was on the air the night after Larry’s hearing on August 22, 2008, when he said, in a press conference, that his relationship with Alycia Lane had been “flirtatious, unprofessional and improper.”

Earlier that day, after Larry’s hearing, she’d made her first public comment to a reporter standing outside the courtroom: “I love my husband. He is a good man.”

And those weren’t just words. She believed them.

“If you love someone, and you believe in them, then you look at the total person. That’s how I look at Larry. I look at him as this wonderful, loving man who is so good and … just a great father and a great husband,” Dawn says. “I love him more now than I ever did. … I feel bad for people who don’t know this kind of love for someone.”