For 13 years, Cornealious “Mike” Anderson was supposed to have been in a Missouri prison cell after convicted of armed robbery in 2000. Rather, through what was labeled a clerical error, he never served his sentence. In other words, the clerical error prevented a warrant from ever being issued for Anderson.
Thus, the St. Louis man spent those 13 years “free”, transforming his life, starting his own business, marrying and having children. It wouldn’t have been difficult for the police to find him, after all, he never hid his identity or whereabouts during that period. He didn’t change his name. He didn’t leave town. He stayed only two blocks away from the last one the court system had in its records. He paid taxes and traffic tickets, registered his businesses, and so on.
Yet, it wasn’t until July 2013 — thirteen years after his sentence — that the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) realized the clerical error that kept him free and authorities went to his home and arrested him.
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“They sent a SWAT team to his house,” Anderson’s attorney, Patrick Megaro, told the Associated Press in April 2014. “He was getting his 3-year-old daughter breakfast, and these men with automatic weapons bang on his door.”
At the time of his arrest, the DOC argued that Anderson still owes time, but his friends and family thought otherwise. To them, Anderson has led an almost perfect life — a wonderful father and husband, football coach, and a church member who doesn’t deserve to be in jail.
After a series of motions filed by his legal team, a Mississippi County judge freed Anderson on May 5, 2014 — nine months after he was picked up from his home in 2013. Judge Terry Lynn Brown ruled that keeping Anderson in prison would not serve any purpose and counted the thirteen years he was improperly free as “time served”.
“You’ve been a good father. You’ve been a good husband. You’ve been a good taxpaying citizen of the state of Missouri. That leads me to believe that you are a good and a changed man,” Judge Brown said. “You’re a free man.”
Anderson walked out of the courtroom a happy man with his three-year-old daughter and wife, who, until Anderson’s arrest in July 2013, didn’t know about the whole robbery story.
Anderson was 22 and had one arrest for marijuana possession on his record when he and a cousin robbed a Burger King store manager of the day’s takings on August 15, 1999. The two, wearing masks, with a BB gun, demanded the store manager to give up the bag of cash he was about to place in a night-deposit box. The two then drove away with the money. Two months after the incident, Anderson was arrested after witnesses gave police his car license plate number.
He was convicted of the robbery but was out on bail while he appealed. In fact, between 2000 and 2004, he filed a series of appeals but they were all shot down, and at that moment, his bail should have been revoked. He should have been taken into custody, but he never was. In 2004, after four years of living and working in Webster Groves, Anderson filed a post-conviction appeal. That appeal clearly stated, “Movant is not presently incarcerated.”
In filings, Anderson’s address is given as a home in Webster Groves while the listing for his co-accused, Laron Harris, is the Missouri Department of Corrections. Still, no one noticed anything and Anderson remained free for seven years after his final appeal in 2005 also failed. It was in July 2013 when the Missouri Department of Corrections discovered, upon preparing to release a prisoner who had served a 13-year sentence, that the prisoner had never been incarcerated.
“Somebody messed up. Somebody messed up big time,” said Tim Lohmar, the prosecutor for St. Charles County in 2014.
And though Anderson continued to live his life after never being told when and where to report to prison, he once admitted that the issue was always in the back of his mind.
“I felt like I had something hanging over my head every day for thirteen years. Every day. It sucks. Every time I’m driving and the police gets behind me,” he was quoted by the RiverFront Times in 2013.
“It made me appreciate spending time with my family, especially my wife. I love my wife. I just want to be around her at all times. It made me appreciate every moment that I have.”