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Missouri Man Who Went To Prison 13 Years Late Ordered Released

CHARLESTON, Mo. - A Missouri man who was sent to prison 13 years after his robbery conviction due to a clerical error was set free by a judge Monday.
CHARLESTON, Mo. - A Missouri man who was sent to prison 13 years after his robbery conviction due to a clerical error was set free by a judge Monday, reports CBS affiliate KFVS.

Cornealious "Mike" Anderson, of St. Louis County, was convicted of robbery in 2000 and sentenced to 13 years but was never told when and where to report to prison. 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 July did the Missouri Department of Corrections discover the clerical error that kept him free and authorities went to his home and arrested him.

He has been imprisoned in the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo. ever since. But on Monday, the 37-year-old Anderson appeared in court to fight for his freedom and Mississippi County Associate Circuit Judge Terry Lynn Brown ruled that keeping Anderson in prison would serve no purpose, reports KFVS.

Judge Brown said that rather than Anderson being granted parole, he would get credit for the 4,794 days between when he was convicted and when he was arrested last year. The judge also noted Anderson's "exemplary" behavior during his 13 years of freedom.

"You've been a good father. You've been a good husband. You've been a good taxpaying citizen of the state of Missouri. That leads me to believe that you are a good and a changed man," Judge Brown said. .
"You're a free man," Brown continued, telling Anderson to go back to his family.

CBS affiliate KMOV reports Anderson then went and embraced his wife and daughter in the courtroom. According to KFVS, Anderson's family erupted in tears. His wife reportedly said she is jumping for joy.

Anderson walked out of the courtroom with his wife and 3-year-old daughter on one arm and his mom on the other. Before being driven away to a freedom celebration at an undisclosed spot, Anderson told reporters he was "very happy. My faith has always been in God. I'm just so thankful. Thank God for everything."

Anderson's story: 

Mike Anderson was nine months into a 13 year-sentence for an armed robbery that took place in 1999. He should have gone to prison in 2002 after his conviction and unsuccessful appeals.

But Missouri made a mistake.  It forgot about him.

"They said it was a clerical error," Anderson explains.
Reporter: "A clerical error?"
Reporter:  "That's the whole thing -- a clerical error!?"
"That's what they say," says Anderson.

Instead of ordering Anderson to prison, the state mistakenly thought he was already there. Anderson said he waited and waited.

Reporter: "What did you think would happen as the days, the weeks, months and years went by?
"I had this sense in me that everything was ok. No matter what was gonna happen, that everything was gonna be ok. To this day I still have that," says Anderson.

If Anderson had gone to prison on schedule in 2002, he would have been released last summer. Instead, that's when the state realized it was attempting to discharge someone who'd never served his sentence.

Law enforcement didn't have to look very hard to find him.

During the last decade, Anderson lived life by the book. He built a home, started a business, coached football... married Laqonna and started a family.
Reporter: "Do you wonder how this could possibly have happened?"
"I think about that all the time. Every day," Laquonna says.

Anderson was rearrested last July at his home.

Reporter: "So this is a unique case from your point of view?"
"I've never seen a case like this, no," says Tim Lohmar, the current prosecutor for St. Charles County where the armed robbery occurred. He wasn't in office then, but is puzzled by how it was handled.
"My first reaction was how did this happen? And somebody messed up. Somebody messed up big time."

Lohmar says there's no question that Mike Anderson is a rehabilitated and responsible man today. But;  "It's very difficult for me to say we can create an exception and we can allow somebody who has found a way -- whether it was by his own doing or otherwise -- to not have to serve the sentence."

Anderson's attorneys have filed a motion to have him released, arguing incarcerating him now is cruel and unusual punishment and that the state waited too long to put him behind bars. And they note that even the man who was robbed back in 1999 has said Anderson doesn't deserve imprisonment now.

The Missouri Attorney General has until next week to respond and a court could schedule a hearing next month.

Reporter: "What do you think your chances are?"
"I'm a man of faith and I believe my chances are in the hands of god, 100 percent favorable my way. I have to believe that. I can't believe anything else," Anderson says.

(Video report: Dean Reynold, CBS News)

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