May 6, 2014 at 8:28 AM ET
When a Missouri judge informed Cornealious "Mike" Anderson that he was a free man on Monday after an ordeal that has hung over his life for the past 14 years, he reunited with his family and spent the whole night wide awake.
"I didn't sleep at all,'' Anderson told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday. "I watched my family, watched them sleeping. I just wanted to make sure I didn't wake up from a dream."
Anderson had been in prison since July of 2013 after Missouri authorities discovered that, due to a clerical error, authorities never brought him in to serve a 13-year sentence for armed robbery originally handed down in 2000. On Monday, Missouri judge Terry Brown spared the father of four from having to serve the full sentence, saying he had rehabilitated himself and turned his life around, becoming a master carpenter. Brown gave him credit for time served, so he won't have to report to a parole officer and for the first time in 14 years, he can live life without having to look over his shoulder.
"I didn't have words; just overwhelmed. I couldn't say anything. I was just thankful. Just thanked God, thanked my family and everyone that's been supporting us."
"The feeling was just great,'' Anderson's wife, LaQonna, told Guthrie. "I missed my husband, I missed my best friend, my kids missed their father, and I'm just so glad that he's home."
Anderson did not allow his four children, who range in age from 3 to 12, to visit him while in prison. Monday, when he returned to his home in St. Louis, marked the first time they have seen him since he was arrested.
"Especially with children, they're so young and impressionable, you don't know how it's going to affect them,'' he said. "I don't think any child should have to see their father or loved one like that because I didn't want my children to feel that was normal [or] something that's acceptable, so I didn't want them to see me like that."
Anderson said that over the years he thought about turning himself in, but decided against it.
"The thought crossed my mind, but once someone tells you it's not your job to turn yourself in, it's [the state's] job to come and get you, it's like, 'Hey I'm going to enjoy every moment that I can,''' he told TODAY's Kate Snow in an interview from prison last week.
The Burger King assistant manager who Anderson robbed in 1999 even advocated for his release, saying it was the state's mistake, not Anderson's, and that Anderson had lived a good life since the crime.
"That's awesome,'' Anderson said. "That in itself is enough for me. It lets you know his character, his integrity as a man and, I don't know if he's gotten over it, but he can get to the point where he can say, 'Hey that man messed up, he was young, but look at him now.' To hear it from him, that should just let everybody know there that that's a testimony in itself."
Anderson's faith has been strengthened by the entire ordeal.
"I just learned God is good,'' he said. "His hand was in this the whole time. It sounds weird, but if I had to do it all over again, I don't know if I'd do anything different because He's just showed me so much of what's going on and just the lives that He's touching. It's not about us, it's not about me.
"He's doing something for other people out there...I got letters from strangers all over the U.S. that I don't even know and...I had people telling me that they gave up, that they weren't even praying anymore, listening to God, and something told them that they need to pray, that they need to help. Just God working in their life is awesome."
Anderson's release is an unusual case that hasn't occurred in Missouri since 1912.
"It doesn't set a legal precedent, but I think it sets a good moral precedent,'' Anderson's attorney, Patrick Megaro, told Guthrie. "It teaches us that if you do the right thing, good things will happen in your life and in the law as well."