CBS News – A judge ruled Monday that a Missouri man who was sent to prison 13 years after his robbery conviction due to a clerical error should be immediately released, reports CBS affiliate KFVS.
Cornealious “Mike” Anderson, of St. Louis County, was convicted of robbery in 2000 and sentenced to 13 years but was never told when and where to report to prison. He spent the next 13 years turning his life around – getting married, raising three kids, learning a trade. He made no effort to conceal his identity or whereabouts. Anderson paid taxes and traffic tickets, renewed his driver’s license and registered his businesses.
Not until last year did the Missouri Department of Corrections discover the clerical error that kept him free and authorities went to his home and arrested him.
“They sent a SWAT team to his house,” Anderson’s attorney, Patrick Megaro, told the Associated Press in April. “He was getting his 3-year-old daughter breakfast, and these men with automatic weapons bang on his door.”
He has been imprisoned in the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo. ever since. But on Monday, the 37-year-old Anderson appeared in court to fight for his freedom and Mississippi County Associate Circuit Judge Terry Lynn Brown ruled that keeping Anderson in prison would serve no purpose, reports KFVS.
“You’re a free man,” Judge Brown reportedly said, telling Anderson to go back to his family.
CBS affiliate KMOV reports Anderson then went and embraced his wife and daughter in the courtroom. According to KFVS, Anderson’s family erupted in tears. His wife reportedly said she is jumping for joy.
Anderson had one arrest for marijuana possession on his record when he and a cousin robbed an assistant manager of a St. Charles Burger King restaurant on Aug. 15, 1999. The men, wearing masks, showed a BB gun and demanded money that was about to be placed in a deposit box.
The worker gave up the bag of cash, and the masked men drove away. The worker turned in the car’s license plate number.
When Anderson was never told to report to prison after his conviction, his attorney reportedly told him to just wait.
“A year goes by, two years, five years, 10 years. He’s thinking, `I guess they don’t care about me anymore,'” Megaro previously told the Associated Press.
So Anderson went about his life.
Peter Joy, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, previously told the Associated Press it isn’t unusual in a country with such a high prison population for sentences to fall through the cracks. What is unusual, Joy said, is for it to go unnoticed for so long.
“The real tragedy here is that one aspect of prison is the idea of rehabilitation,” Joy said. “Here we have somebody who has led a perfect life for 13 years. He did everything right. So he doesn’t need rehabilitation.”