ST. LOUIS – After he was convicted of armed robbery in 2000, Cornealious Anderson was sentenced to 13 years behind bars and told to await instructions on when and where to report to prison. But those instructions never came.
So Anderson didn’t report. 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. Now he’s fighting for release, saying authorities missed their chance to incarcerate him.
In a single day last July, Anderson’s life was turned upside-down.
“They sent a SWAT team to his house,” Anderson’s attorney, Patrick Megaro, said Wednesday. “He was getting his 3-year-old daughter breakfast, and these men with automatic weapons bang on his door.”
Anderson, 37, was taken to Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., to begin serving the sentence. A court appeal filed in February asks for him to be freed.
Anderson had just one arrest for marijuana possession on his record when he and a cousin robbed an assistant manager for a St. Charles Burger King restaurant on Aug. 15, 1999. The men, wearing masks, showed a gun – it turned out to be 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.
Anderson was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison and waited for word on what to do next.
So Anderson went about his life. Megaro said he was not a fugitive, was never on the run. In fact, just the opposite.
Megaro described Anderson as a model citizen, a married father who became a carpenter and started three businesses. He paid income and property taxes and kept a driver’s license showing his true name and address. When he was pulled over for a couple of traffic violations, nothing showed up indicating he should be in prison.
That’s why Anderson was shocked when the marshals arrived.
He now lives among the general population at Charleston. Megaro said Anderson is holding his own – barely.
“He’s doing his best to keep his spirits up,” Megaro said. “Each day that goes by, more hope is lost. It’s a daily struggle for him.”
The last time anything like this happened in Missouri was 1912. In that case, the convicted man was set free, Megaro said.