The decision by a Missouri judge this week to go easy on Cornealious “Mike” Anderson after a bureaucratic snafu meant he never served a 13-year prison sentence for robbing a Burger King has been widely hailed as an act of mercy, even by prosecutors and Anderson's victim, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Mississippi County Judge Terry Lynn Brown told Anderson “to go home” after a 10-minute hearing, saying, “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 man and a changed man.” The judge's decision is “quirky” given the unique circumstances, says Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona College of Law. It comes amid a growing backlash to tough sentencing laws. Americans now prefer rehabilitation to jail time for nonviolent drug offenders, a shift from a decade ago, says a Pew survey
Anderson’s story offers at least a glimpse at the possibilities for rehabilitation and redemption. “We have a system sanction and punishment that has become excessive by historical and global standards,” says Miller. “And when you see the potential of people [like Anderson] who have made terrible errors and caused harm and nonetheless succeed as a member of society, it makes you wonder how many other people can do that, and whether harsh sanctions remove opportunities for mercy and redemption.” Anderson had been sentenced to 13 years for the robbery, but the prison order never came. He went on to marry, divorce, marry again, raise four children, start a construction business, and abide by all laws save a few traffic violations.