ST. LOUIS — After he was convicted of armed robbery in 2000, Cornealious Anderson was sentenced to 13 years behind bars and told to await instructions on when and where to report to prison. But those instructions never came.
So Anderson didn't report. 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, 37, paid taxes and traffic tickets, renewed his driver's license and registered his businesses.
Not until last year did the Missouri Department of Corrections discover the clerical error that kept him free. Now he's fighting for release, saying authorities missed their chance to incarcerate him.
In a single day in July, Anderson's life was turned upside-down when a SWAT team arrived at his house. He was taken to Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., to begin serving the sentence. A court appeal filed in February asks for him to be freed.
Anderson had just one arrest for marijuana possession on his record when he and a cousin robbed an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant on Aug. 15, 1999, showing what turned out to be a BB gun.
Anderson was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison and waited for word on what to do next.
"His attorney said, 'Listen, they're going to get you some day, so just wait for the order,' " attorney Patrick Megaro said Wednesday. "As time goes by, the order never comes."
So Anderson went about his life. Megaro said he was not a fugitive, was never on the run. In fact, just the opposite.
Megaro described Anderson as a model citizen — a married father who became a carpenter and started three businesses. He paid income and property taxes and kept a driver's license showing his true name and address. When he was pulled over for a couple of traffic violations, nothing showed up indicating he should be in prison.
That's why Anderson was shocked when the marshals arrived.
"The real tragedy here is that one aspect of prison is the idea of rehabilitation," said Peter Joy, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. "Here we have somebody who has led a perfect life for 13 years. He did everything right. So he doesn't need rehabilitation."