In response to an RFT inquiry about Anderson, Nixon's spokesman Scott Holste writes: "We would not be in a position to comment about the possibilities of granting pardon requests, whether they are actual or, as in this case, hypothetical."

And then there are those who say regardless of his good behavior, Anderson still has a debt to pay. Attempts to reach the victim of the robbery were unsuccessful, but Lohmar says that while the circumstances surrounding Anderson's story are "crazy" to him, the situation is cut and dried.

"The jury heard the evidence, the judge upheld the sentence," he says. "As unfair as it may seem to he and his family, he's got thirteen years he owes the state. I don't think there's much more to say than that."

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

Seated at a slightly sticky table in the bright visitation room at Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center, Anderson cuts a very different figure than the man in LaQonna's books of family photos of weddings and Christmas mornings. He is dressed in a dingy white T-shirt, gray pants and blue slippers. A scruffy, three-week-old beard grows from his chin. He is sleep deprived and emotionally fragile. In these undignified surroundings — a female guard yards away, a broken vending machine wheezily accepting and rejecting a phantom dollar bill in the background — he speaks in a soft, earnest baritone voice about his past mistakes. He admits he was "young and dumb" once, trying to fit in with a wilder crowd.

"Yes, I feel responsible. I could have stopped it," he says of the robbery. "A year or two in jail, yeah, I would have done that. I knew that I was there. I knew that something could have been done, but I ran. I was scared. But thirteen years for that? There are guys in here on attempted murder; they've been here for ten years, for taking a life."

Almost immediately, Anderson sheds light on a potentially important clue — at least one piece of the puzzle that explains his protracted absence from Missouri's correctional system. As part of Anderson's final appeal in 2004, an attorney named Michael Gross appeared on Anderson's behalf in Judge Rauch's court. They were joined by prosecutor James Gregory to update her on the status of the case — Gross had just filed the brief with the first line that read, "Movant is not presently incarcerated."

"[Gross] said the prosecuting attorney jumped up in court and said, 'Oh no, Mr. Anderson. We checked this morning. He's in Fulton Correctional Facility,'" recalls Anderson. "And so my lawyer thought that I had been arrested then. A day or two later, I called him up to see how court went, and he was like, 'Wait a minute, you're not in custody?' And I said, 'No!'"

Gross declined to discuss Anderson's case in depth but confirmed that Gregory "popped up" in court claiming Anderson was already in prison.

"At the time I assumed that he had more current information than I did, because it had been several days since I talked to Cornealious," remembers Gross. "That didn't prove to be the case."

Rauch's long-time court reporter tells Riverfront Times that this type of status update on a case would likely have been off the record. Therefore there is no transcript. Gregory, the prosecutor who allegedly made the mistake about Anderson's whereabouts, died in 2005 at the age of 71. Rauch retired from the bench last year. (Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.) If true, Gregory's error is yet another link in the bizarre chain of procedural failure, but it does not explain why no one issued a warrant for Anderson in 2002, nor why no one from the department of corrections realized they were missing a body all these years.

"'Nobody wants you,'" Anderson recalls being told at the time.

At this point, attorneys for Anderson are still in the fact-gathering phase and have yet to file anything on his behalf. Anderson says he has paperwork for a petition for clemency in his cell. Aside from that, he's just waiting and praying that he is released. He has told his wife and family that he won't put them on the visitation list because he doesn't want them to see him inside. He says he does not think about the possibility of having to serve the full sentence.

"I still think right now, this is going to be a blessing. This is just something to get it over with," he says. "It sucks because I'm in here, and this place will drive me to the edge, but I just don't believe I'm going to do what they're asking of me to do. Because the God I serve is awesome. I just believe everything is going to work out."

Despite his faith, Anderson admits that this secret has been in the back of his mind ever since he was arrested in 1999.

"I felt like I had something hanging over my head every day for thirteen years. Every day. It sucks. Every time I'm driving and the police gets behind me," he says. "It made me appreciate spending time with my family, especially my wife. I love my wife. I just want to be around her at all times. It made me appreciate every moment that I have."

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