"I'm excited, but I'm still pissed off. This is very embarrassing."
That was Cornealious Michael Anderson III's reaction to the news this afternoon that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce has dropped all charges against him in relation to a purse snatching in downtown St. Louis.
"On behalf of the Circuit Attorney's Office, I sincerely apologize to Mr. Anderson and thank him, his defense attorney and area businesses for their cooperation in assisting us in getting to the truth of this matter," she wrote in a press statement.
Anderson sounded relieved, but mostly exhausted and angry when he spoke to Daily RFT.
"It sucks because I'm still more upset than I am excited," he said, his voice breaking. "The hell that my family and I have been put through."
Anderson gained international fame and notoriety (as Joyce's statement notes) after the state of Missouri forgot to incarcerate him for thirteen years, stemming from a robbery charge in 1999. He became a law-abiding citizen, but was still arrested in 2013 after the Missouri Department of Corrections realized its error. In May 2014, a judge set him free on the grounds that he had reformed and granted him credit for time served. Riverfront Times broke the story, which also became a segment on This American Life.
However, that robbery charge still popped up on Anderson's record on November 16, 2014, when St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers stopped him while he was walking from a bar downtown to his vehicle. A woman had just had her purse snatched a few blocks south at a White Castle, and Anderson fit the suspect description, according to police. The arresting officer brought Anderson back to the victim and her companion, who ID'd Anderson. Both witnesses identified him again later on in a line-up. Anderson was charged with second-degree robbery.
Those witness IDs were the only evidence against Anderson. He was not carrying any of the woman's possessions, and had cash from a contracting job he'd completed earlier in the day. Security camera footage from the last bar Anderson was in showed him leaving just before 1 a.m. to retrieve his car; The burglary occurred about 15 minutes north.
Joyce's statement also raises questions about the way that Anderson was ID'd and arrested. "The investigation revealed questions regarding the procedures by which the victim and witness identified the subject," the statement reads. "Joyce said that she has spoken to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson about the details her office uncovered regarding the initial investigation. The Circuit Attorney's Office is now working with police to review internal policies and procedures in this case." Joyce's office would not elaborate.
"The review is still going on as far as the internal procedure," says Lauren Trager, spokeswoman for the circuit attorney's office. "That review process is happening right now."
The statement could refer to the fact that Anderson was brought back to the victim to be ID'd -- a technique that some say prejudices the victim to ID whomever the police have detained -- or the fact that investigators waited over a month to retrieve security camera footage from the bar where Anderson spent the evening. Because of the delay, the relevant footage was automatically taped over by the bar's camera system (Daily RFT ended up with the only stills of this footage, which were subpoenaed from us -- read about that here).
Major Michael Caruso with the SLMPD says that if an officer had followed up with the bar, that would not necessarily have prevented Anderson's arrest. He guesses that Anderson's story about getting his car at 6th and Olive -- which is a good distance away from the bar -- perhaps "didn't make sense" to the arresting officer. Anderson arrived to the bar on a party bus, but he decided to leave earlier than his friends to walk to his car.
"After the fact, you know, hey, possibly the officers could have driven to 6th and Olive to see if there was a car. Maybe that is something we could have done or should have done better, but it didn't happen," says Caruso. "Ninety-nine percent of the people we arrest committed the crime. Officers are used to hearing alibis and excuses everyday."
He also dismisses the idea that the "show up" ID -- or bringing Anderson back to the victim -- was an inappropriate investigation technique.
"You can do show-ups the way we did them if they're done within a reasonable amount of time after the crime was committed. Twenty-three to 25 minutes after the crime definitely fit into our protocol," he says.
Caruso says the subsequent lineup at the jail was requested by the Circuit Attorney's Office. "That is not typical. That was just an extra safe guard that the circuit attorney wanted," he says.
"In this case I'll just say, hey, I think the system worked. The circuit attorney in their investigation after the case, they discovered some things we did not discover during our initial investigation," Caruso says. "As a result this man doesn't have to go through a trial or the possibility of being convicted."
That is, unsurprisingly, not much comfort to Anderson at this point.
"The stares, the negative comments, my phone has still yet to ring from referrals from people calling me," Anderson said this afternoon. "I've lost -- I think I've lost -- a couple of good friends who haven't even contacted me to see how I'm doing -- it's all because of this."
Here is the full statement from Joyce's office:
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