Cornealious Michael Anderson III was living a good, responsible life. The construction company he had started was doing well. His marriage was strong. His four young children were comfortable, living in a house he’d built himself in a quiet area of St. Louis. Then, early on July 25, 2013, the 36-year-old heard pounding on his front door. When he opened it, he found himself face-to-face with a team of U.S. marshals. They took him to jail.
He knew exactly why.
Almost 14 years earlier, Anderson and his stepbrother had robbed a Burger King employee at gunpoint as the man made a late-night deposit at a St. Louis bank. On May 19, 2000, Anderson was sentenced to 13 years in prison for armed robbery. He filed an appeal—he claimed that he didn’t have a gun and didn’t know his stepbrother had planned a robbery—and was released on bond. The appeals court affirmed his conviction, and, in May 2002, after a subsequent appeal to the higher court, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed it as well. A warrant for Anderson’s arrest would be issued immediately.
Except it wasn’t.
As time passed, and the police didn’t show up, Anderson went on with his life. He had a daughter in 2002 and a son in 2006, got divorced in 2007, remarried that same year, and became a stepfather. He incorporated his company in 2009 and had another daughter in 2011. He filed taxes, owned real estate and cars, and kept his driver’s license current, all of which required him to file paperwork with various government agencies within the court’s jurisdiction. He never used a false name or address.
Only when officials at the Missouri Department of Corrections began to process his release from Southeast Correctional Center did they realize that, due to a “clerical error,” he’d never been incarcerated in the first place. The Missouri Supreme Court finally issued the warrant.
“He was a ghost in the system,” says his attorney, Patrick Michael Megaro. On December 30, 2013, Megaro filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Mississippi County for Anderson to appear before a judge, arguing that he was being jailed illegally.
The Missouri attorney general, Chris Koster, claimed that “Anderson took advantage of the situation in the apparent hope that no one would bring [it] to the court’s attention.”
Should Cornealious Anderson be required to serve his prison sentence? You be the judge.
Next: The Verdict
In February 2014, Chicago Public Media’s This American Life produced a segment on the case that helped rally the public to support Anderson’s petition for release. Unexpectedly, Koster, the attorney general, suggested that Megaro file an action against the director of the Department of Corrections, which would force the court to consider if Anderson deserved credit for “time served.” Koster explained that the court of appeals had said that “when the department erroneously releases an inmate, without any contributing fault by the inmate, the sentence continues to run while he is at liberty.”
Megaro immediately refiled the case. At a hearing on May 5, 2014, after serving ten months in prison, Anderson was freed. “He is a good, decent man who lived a good, decent life for those 13 years,” says Megaro.
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