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After years of good behavior, Missouri convict can skip sentence

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - A Missouri man who straightened his life out after being convicted of a 1999 robbery was officially proclaimed a free man on Monday when a judge determined it was not his fault that the state forgot to imprison him while he started a business, got married, raised four children and volunteered at his church.

Missouri Associate Circuit Judge T. Lynn Brown ruled that Cornealious "Mike" Anderson, 37, will not have to serve the 13-year prison sentence he received for a 1999 fast food robbery because he has demonstrated good behavior since then.

Anderson was immediately ordered released from jail where he has been held since July 25, 2013, when prison officials had him arrested after they discovered he was not actually in prison, even though he was in their files for incarceration.

The government bungled enforcement of the prison sentence, not Anderson, according to Anderson's lawyer Patrick Megaro.

"Several different clerical errors by several different government agencies combined for this to happen," said Megaro.

"Thirteen years was not an unreasonable sentence for that crime then, but it is an unreasonable sentence now," said Megaro. "The judge said it's just not in the public interest. It would serve no good purpose."

Anderson "is really just kind of in shock," said Megaro. "He just wants to make sure he is not dreaming."

In 1999, Anderson was arrested for the robbery of a Burger King manager. After his sentencing to 13 years in prison, Anderson was released on bail while he appealed the sentence. He lost the appeal and was told to await orders for where and when to report to prison. But the orders never came.

When Anderson was arrested last year, the case drew international attention and more than 30,000 people signed an online petition supporting his release and citing his work as a business owner, father, husband, youth football coach and church volunteer.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Monday he supported the judge's decision to let Anderson go free.

"From the outset, I have proposed a solution that balances the seriousness of Mr. Anderson's crime with the mistake made by the criminal justice system and Mr. Anderson's lack of a criminal record over the past 13 years," Koster said in a statement. "Today's outcome appears to appropriately balance the facts as we understand them."

(Reporting By Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)

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