The Washington Post

Man avoids 13-year jail sentence because of a clerical error, until now

He was convicted of armed robbery about 13 years ago after stealing money from a Burger King manager who was making a bank deposit.

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He posted bond and he went home.

He waited for the Missouri Department of Corrections to give him a date to surrender. But no one called.

For years, he believed the courts had revoked his sentence. For years, the state believed he was in prison serving his time.

Now, Cornealious “Mike” Anderson is behind bars after the department of corrections noticed what it calls a “clerical error” last summer. Then it went and got him.

Anderson told reporters he never considered turning himself in;  he just decided to turn his life around.

“It was 13 years of somewhat relief, but was it always in the back of my mind? Of course it was in the back of my mind,” he told “This American Life.” “You get pulled over for a traffic ticket, you run a red light, run a stop sign, you didn’t come to a complete stop, and they’re running your information and your hearts beating fast like, ‘Man, are they going to know?’ And they come back and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Anderson, get your taillight fixed. Get your tags renewed.’ And that was it.”

His attorney, Patrick Megaro, is now arguing the 13-year sentence comes 13 years too late and is a violation of his legal rights, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Megaro filed court papers asking for Anderson’s release. He argued forcing the man to serve the term after he was rehabilitated was wrong, saying it’s “cruel and unusual to allow him to believe that the state had given him a reprieve to one day, out of the blue, knock down his door and take his entire life away.”

On Tuesday, Attorney General Chris Koster rejected Megaro’s argument, but said he could refile it against the director of the department of corrections. The Post-Dispatch reported this move could give Anderson credit for the time he was at large. Koster’s office declined to comment after filing its response, the paper said.

Megaro told The Post-Dispatch on Tuesday evening he needed time to review the document because he thought the attorney general’s suggestion might be risky.

“If I take them up on their offer, and the court denies it, it doesn’t really do much good,” he said. “My initial reaction is that their approach might not work.”

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar recently told “This American Life” that letting Anderson go would likely open Pandora’s box “if our system allowed for people to somehow — whether it was their doing or somebody else’s doing — to delay their incarceration to see if they can rehabilitate and become a productive member of society, to become a family man. I don’t know how we would do that. I don’t know where you stop, where you draw the line.”

As of Wednesday morning, nearly 21,000 people had signed a petition on asking for his release.

Since his conviction, Anderson became a carpenter and started his own construction business. He got married and had four children. He coached youth football.

He filed his taxes. He obtained business licenses and construction permits. He even got pulled over for traffic violations once or twice. No one noticed.

“I never felt like a fugitive because a fugitive is someone that’s running from the law. I never ran from the law. I was there,” he told “This American Life.”

Then came last summer — when Anderson’s never-served prison term was about to expire, and when the department noticed what it now calls a clerical error.

Marshals found Anderson, now 37, in Webster Groves, Mo., and sent him to prison to serve out his sentence, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“It’s just very hard,” his wife, LaQonna Anderson, told NBC’s Today. “And I miss my husband very, very much. My kids miss their father.”

Even Dennis, the Burger King manager Anderson robbed at gunpoint, told “This American Life”:

“You gotta give the guy a little bit of slack. … The law dropped the ball. The law ought to drop it completely. They need to leave the man alone.”

Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. Tweet her: @lindseybever



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.
Next Story
Soraya Nadia McDonald · April 16, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.