Back in September, Riverfront Times published a feature story titled "The (Extremely) Long (and Sometimes Forgetful) Arm of the Law." It told the story of Cornealious Michael Anderson, or Mike, as he's known to friends and family. Anderson was convicted in 2000 of armed robbery and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. He appealed several times, and during that process he posted bond and went home. When his appeals ultimately failed, law enforcement should have re-arrested him and taken him to prison to serve his sentence. But for reasons that are still unclear, that didn't happen. Anderson remained free.
In that time he didn't change his name, move away or in any other way evade capture -- there was simply no one looking for him. Instead he got married, became a father of four, a homeowner and a master carpenter living in a home he built himself in Webster Groves.
A version of the story airs this weekend on the national radio show This American Life. What follows is an epilogue of sorts ahead of the broadcast: Everything we've learned about Anderson's case since our story was published in September, including what became of the victim of the 1999 robbery.
If you missed the feature, click here to read it and catch up on the details. When the story left off, Anderson was at Fulton Reception and Diagnostic, a penitentiary about two hours west of St. Louis. The facility is like a way station for prisoners entering the Missouri correctional system -- after an intake process that can take several weeks or months, inmates are assigned a permanent prison "home." When we last spoke to Anderson, he'd been at Fulton about two months. He didn't have an attorney, nor was it certain whether he had any legal recourse.
Since then Anderson's family hired Patrick Michael Megaro, a Florida-based attorney who specializes in post-conviction appeals.
"It's still kind of unclear to me how he fell through the cracks," says Megaro. "I don't think any of it is attributable to him at all. I think what happened is there was a clerical error, and the Missouri Department of Corrections figured they had a prisoner in their custody. Nobody double-checked, and nobody paid attention to the case after he'd gone through all of his appeals."
In November the Missouri Department of Corrections moved Anderson to a permanent prison -- Southeast Correctional Center, about two and a half hours south of St. Louis. On December 30, 2013, Megaro filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the warden of Southeast Correctional, challenging the state of Missouri's right to hold Anderson. The petition makes two arguments -- first, that making Anderson serve his sentence thirteen years after the fact is a violation of due process, and second, taking him away from the productive life he was able to make for himself in those ensuing years constitutes cruel and unusual punishment:
Petitioner was left alone by the State of Missouri for 13 years and led to believe that the State had given up on execution of the judgment. To require this man to now begin serving a sentence in 2013 that should have been completed in 2013 is in essence to double his sentence. However, it was particularly cruel and unusual to allow him to believe that the State had given him reprieve to one day, out of the blue, knock down his door and take his entire life away 13 years after the fact...To call this situation unusual is an understatement. The very nature of doubling a man's sentence because of the State's failure to act and gross negligence, to give this man hope because of the State's utter and complete failure to act, defines cruelty. As a result, this Court should grant this petition.
Because the petition is filed against the warden of the prison, the Missouri Department of Corrections is represented by Attorney General Chris Koster. A spokeswoman for Koster declined to comment on pending litigation, and right now the petition is before a judge in Mississippi County. There are no hearings currently scheduled.
If the judge denies Anderson's petition, Megaro says he plans to appeal.
"This is not going to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. We're going to be creating new law in the state of Missouri," says Megaro. "This is going to be a precedent-setting case. Now, I doubt that this scenario is bound to repeat itself...as far as I can tell this has never been reported in the state in Missouri and not reported much throughout the country -- the history of the country."
Next, find out how the victim of the original robbery felt when he learned that Anderson never served his sentence. And click all the way through to view a complete copy of Anderson's petition for a write of habeas corpus.
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