Cornealious Anderson was 24 when he made an incredibly bad decision. He and a cousin used a BB gun to rob a restaurant manager on his way to deposit money at the bank. Anderson was caught, sentenced to 13 years in prison, and sent home to await instructions for reporting to prison. The instructions never came.
Thirteen years later the Missouri Department of Corrections realized its error. Perhaps they sent release instructions to the prison where Anderson was supposed to be incarcerated. I can only imagine — and would have loved to have seen — the bureaucratic panic that ensued when they discovered that Anderson wasn’t there, and that he had never been in prison.
What had Anderson been doing for the last 13 years? What would you have done? Would you have gone back to the court and said, “excuse me prosecutor, but you still haven’t told me when and where to go to jail?” I can’t blame Anderson for not doing that. He did what he was told, and on the advice of his lawyer, he waited. And waited. And started working as a carpenter. And got married. And registered and ran 3 businesses. And paid taxes. And had four kids. And renewed his driver’s license. In short, Anderson rehabilitated himself, and, according to reports, was an upstanding husband, father and citizen.
What did the state do? They sent a SWAT team to take him down. Don’t you think that perhaps, at most, they should have just sent a warden with the instructions they’d forgotten to send 13 years before? But no, in today’s police state, only a SWAT team will do.
They should have sent the SWAT team to swat some sense into the officials and bureaucrats that screwed up in the first place.
Now Anderson is stuck in prison. His wife is effectively a single mom. His children are fatherless. His businesses are probably defunct or foundering. He’s not paying taxes. Instead, taxpayers are paying to imprison him.
Here’s a black man from the big city of St. Louis who was beating the odds by reforming from a potential life of crime and becoming the kind of father that is so desperately needed in the black community. Now he is rotting — not rehabilitating — in jail.
Should Anderson have originally gone to jail for his crime? Absolutely. But 13 years for a first offense robbery with a BB gun? I think not. If the purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation, which indeed it should be in most cases, 13 years is excessive. He should have gotten a year, community service and probation.
Now, 13 years later, what good will come from locking him up even for a day, never mind for the next 13 years?
No good at all.
Missouri’s Attorney General maintains that the state is justified in making Anderson serve the sentence. Only by the strict letter of the law is there even slight justification. Common sense and mercy scream for a more reasonable outcome.
I am sure it is within the power of the court system to alter the sentence. If I had the power to act, I’d simply put Anderson on two years of probation, assign him 100 hours of community service, make sure he pays back the stolen money with interest (if that hadn’t already happened 13 years ago), and commend him for good behavior during the term of his sentence.
Yet Anderson is in prison. Governor Jay Nixon could commute his sentence, but he declines to comment. Shame on him. If I was the Governor, I’d conduct an investigation into Anderson’s life, interviewing his family, neighbors and business associates, and, if Anderson is indeed reformed, I’d take pleasure in commuting the sentence.
Shall justice rob mercy? It is in Missouri.