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Lancaster County District Judge Steven D. Burns, in ordering five years' probation Wednesday for a man convicted of rape, said his sentencing decision was not influenced by claims of racial bias that surrounded the case.

Burns said he found no evidence that race played a role in an all-white jury's conviction of Donald P. Sanders in the 2002 rape of a 20-year-old woman.

Sanders is black, the woman white.

"I am not sentencing an innocent man," Burns said.

Since the man's January conviction, Burns has received about three dozen letters from Sanders' supporters, some of whom urged the judge to correct what they called an unfair verdict by sentencing him to probation.

Burns said Wednesday that some of the writers asserted the verdict would have been different had the victim and the defendant been the same color.

"I'm not influenced in any way by the foregoing points," Burns said.

"Nothing that was done here today (should be seen as) 'righting a wrong.'"

The judge said his sentencing decision was influenced by, among other things, Sanders' lack of a significant criminal history, his work ethic and the "significant community support" he has received.

In addition, Burns said the jurors apparently convicted Sanders on a belief the woman was too intoxicated to consent to sex.

Yet, the judge said, there was no evidence the woman had been given a "date rape" drug before the sexual encounter.

He said police officers and hospital personnel who spoke with the woman after the incident reported she did not appear impaired by alcohol.

Sanders, 40, said he and the woman had a consensual sexual encounter after hours inside Alexandria 2112 in July 2002. He was a manager and the woman was a server at the dance club.

On Wednesday, Sanders maintained his innocence.

"I would not, I could not, I did not sexually assault (the woman)," he told Burns before sentencing. "It's not in my character. It's not in my being."

Sanders' attorney, Deputy Lancaster County Public Defender Shawn Elliott, told the judge he would appeal the conviction.

"The justice system is not always about the truth," Elliott said before sentencing. "The court should not penalize him if he maintains his innocence."

In addition to probation, Burns ordered Sanders to serve 90 days in Lancaster County Jail on a related charge of procuring alcohol for a minor.

Amy Jacobsen, deputy Lancaster County attorney, asked Burns to consider reports that Sanders has had inappropriate sexual contact with other women.

"He isn't the upstanding - citizen he purports to be," she said.

But Elliott said the reports were unsubstantiated and never led to charges against his client.

Prosecutors argued Sanders had sex with the woman without her consent July 7, 2002.

He was charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault and of providing alcohol to a minor.

At trial, the woman testified she remembered having one drink with Sanders and then blacking out. She said she awoke several hours later on the club's floor, naked from the waist down.

The woman later told investigators she believed Sanders put a drug in her drink.

State crime lab tests revealed no drugs in her urine sample or in the glasses used by her and Sanders.

The jury returned its verdict Jan. 23. Elliott, in a subsequent motion, argued the verdict was racially tainted and asked the judge to set it aside. Burns refused, saying he could find no evidence race played a role.

Reach Butch Mabin at 473-7234 or

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