It took only ten minutes to put an end to a journey that began 15 years ago.
Convicted in 2000 at the age of 19 for his participation in an armed robbery the year before, Cornealious “Mike” Anderson was sentenced to 13 years in prison. After a failed appeal, during which he was out on bond, his lawyer told him to prepare to be taken into custody. So Anderson waited for the inevitable.
While he waited, Anderson trained to be a journeyman carpenter, married and had children. He built his home, where he and his wife raised four children. He started his own business, coached his son’s little league team, became active in church. He would live his life contributing to society in the best way he knew how and do so for 4,794 days.
On the morning of the 4,795th day, eight U.S. marshals showed up at his home and arrested him.
That fateful day in July 2013 coincided with the end of the original sentence. However, due to a series of clerical errors and miscommunications within the Missouri justice system and Department of Corrections, Anderson was never arrested. The entire time the Missouri DOC believed Anderson was in prison and it was only when they were preparing for his release did they realize he was never taken into custody.
For the past nine months, Anderson has been serving his sentence in prison. His new attorney explored legal options to get him released, including filing a Writ of Habeas Corpus on the grounds that tearing him away from the productive life he has lived for the past 13 years amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case garnered national attention and petitions were started to urge the Attorney General and the state of Missouri to release him.
The state’s attorney general, Chris Koster, was personally sympathetic to Anderson’s plight. Still, in a reply brief filed last month, Koster argued that he still owed the state time. However, he did hint that the state was willing to work with the court if they chose to seek an alternative solution to keeping Anderson in prison. He stated that if the judge saw it fit to credit Anderson for the time after the appeal and the time he was rearrested, in other words the 13 years he waited to be arrested, the Department of Corrections and the state would not oppose the judge’s decision. Per the Attorney General’s suggestion, Anderson’s attorney filed suit against the Director of the Department of Corrections in late April, arguing that he should be given credit for time served.
On Monday, May 5, 2014, the judge did just that.
In a 10 minute hearing, Judge Terry Brown credited the 4,794 days Anderson remained free before being taken into custody as time served. “I believe continuing to incarcerate you serves no purpose, would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and punish a good man,” Judge Brown said.
Anderson was released immediately and joined by his wife, 3-year old-daughter, and his mother. Amid tears, Anderson told reporters, “I am very happy. My faith has always been in God. I’m just so thankful. Thank God for everything.”
In an interview in prison the previous week with St. Louis television station Fox 2, Anderson spoke of the nightmare he had been living the past nine months and how it was so much harder to be serving a sentence for something he did 15 years earlier. He felt it was an injustice to rearrest him at this stage of his life, noting that he was never a fugitive. He noted several instances where the state knew he wasn’t in custody and that he thought it could have been handled a better way.
He never said he shouldn’t serve any time, he just felt that the sentence given was too extreme and that he should have served at the time of his sentence. He also pointed out that the Missouri Department of Corrections received more than $400,000 for the past 13 years from the state for Anderson when he wasn’t in custody. He feels that the past 13 years of his life should speak to how he has been rehabilitated.
The judge agreed when he announced his decision, “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 man and a changed man.”