The all-white jury returned swiftly with a guilty verdict. Anderson received thirteen years: ten for robbery and three for armed criminal action.

Anderson walked out of Fulton Diagnostic for the first time in June 2000 — ten months after the initial robbery. Using money scraped together from relatives, the family hired a new attorney to handle an appeal. After it was filed, Anderson bonded out — $25,000 paid for using a property owned by his stepfather as collateral. The bond was signed by St. Charles County Judge Lucy Rauch.

For the appeal Anderson's new attorney, Alan Kimbrell, argued that the Beretta brochure should never have been admitted into evidence or shown to a jury because it created "unfair prejudice" against Anderson. The Eastern District Court of Appeals judge disagreed and reaffirmed Anderson's conviction.

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Illustration by Kelly Brother
View a larger version of this week's cover.

Kimbrell then appealed to the Missouri State Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in 2002. In the meantime, Anderson married his first wife, became a father and was in training to become a journeyman carpenter.

In the court's opinion, issued in May 2002, Judge Michael Wolff wrote for the minority, "The brochure is the only corroboration of the state's understandably weak evidence. It is not at all cumulative and cannot be treated as harmless. Without the gun brochure, the evidence supporting armed criminal action is neither strong nor overwhelming."

Wolff wrote that Anderson deserved a new trial, but the panel of judges voted four to three to uphold the conviction. Kimbrell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It declined to hear his argument.

Most everyone contacted by Riverfront Times agrees that Anderson's bond should have been revoked or a warrant issued for his arrest at that point. Bafflingly, neither occurred.

"Obviously, I don't know what happened, but presumably there was a break in that line of communication," says St. Charles prosecuting attorney Tim Lohmar.

Wolff also expressed surprise when told that Anderson never again reentered custody.

"That's pretty special," he says wryly. "It goes back to the trial court. They're supposed to issue an arrest warrant or have him surrender."

It isn't clear who erred — the Missouri Supreme Court, the original appeals court or the St. Charles court.

"Most of the time the communication to us on the status of the appeals is pretty bad," says Carrie Barth, St. Charles' chief warrant officer. "I don't think any warrant should have come from us — at least not that I'm aware of."

Barth suggested the Attorney General's Office may have been responsible for the warrant, but Scott Holste — spokesman for Governor Jay Nixon, the attorney general at the time — said in a statement that the AG's office "does not have notification role in these matters."

In 2004, after four years of living and working in Webster Groves, Anderson filed a post-conviction appeal in St. Charles court with Judge Rauch. A new team of lawyers argued that Anderson received inadequate counsel at his original trial. The filing alleges that Anderson's attorney failed to challenge the prosecutor on a number of items raised in court, including the assertion that Anderson was a gang member.

The very first line of the post-conviction appeal filing reads, "Movant is not presently incarcerated." In several places throughout the filing Anderson's address is given as a home in Webster Groves; the address for Laron Harris, meanwhile, is listed as "Missouri Department of Corrections." No one apparently thought anything of this.

That final appeal withered in 2005. It was the last the court system would hear of Cornealious Anderson for seven years.

Early this summer, a blip of activity suddenly appeared in Anderson's dormant 1999 case file, long ago sent to archives in Jefferson City. The Missouri Department of Corrections was preparing for Anderson's release — that is, the release he would have been getting if he had in fact been incarcerated since 2000, as its records apparently showed. Nanci Gonder, a spokesperson for the attorney general, says the DOC contacted the AG's office and got the ball rolling on the warrant, which was issued by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Ever since his arrest, Anderson's family has been seeking information on how this could have happened and how to get him home as soon as possible. They are desperate to avoid the worst-case scenario: He will simply have to serve the remaining years of his sentence starting now. According to several criminal-defense attorneys contacted by Riverfront Times, this is a very real possibility.

"The other possibility, of course, is executive action — clemency," says Frank Bowman, professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and coeditor of the Federal Sentencing Reporter. "Say, 'Hey, governor, can you pardon him or commute his sentence in light of this error on the part of the state? This person has taken advantage of this great chance, has kept his nose clean and become a great citizen. After all, you have budgetary problems. What good is it going to do to stick this family man inside and pay for his room and board?'"

Nixon, however, is notoriously stingy with clemency. Since he took office in 2009, only one prisoner has received a commutation of sentence. That stands in sharp contrast to neighboring Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn has granted more than 900 applications for clemency, pardon or commutation of sentence in the same amount of time.

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