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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Justice delayed

I have mixed feelings about this:

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.

[. . .]

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 lauded 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," he said.

"You're a free man," Brown continued, telling Anderson to go back to his family.

If it were a murder case, it would be an easy call, right? No matter how much time has passed, the guy has to be held accountable for his crime. But since no one suffered permanent harm, it's a little tougher to say, "Go ahead and throw the book at him, he still hasn't paid his debt." If one of the goals of prison is to rehabilitate, he's already there, so why lock him up?

It's interesting that the judge gave him "credit" for the 4,794 days betweeen conviction and finally getting caught. Is that a way of saying he was in effect in prison all that time? If so, it was a prison of his own making, and that's where my ambivalence comes in. He has always known he was on borrowed time, that he was getting away with something he shouldn't be getting away with.