A man who spent 10 years too many behind bars because of a judge’s sentencing error walked free Friday into the arms of his family.
Leonard Brown, 47, spent more than half his life behind bars after a judge wrongly sentenced him to 99 years on a robbery conviction that should have brought him a 15-year term instead.
A fellow inmate who once worked for a law firm discovered the error in Brown’s file last year and helped him get it into court.
“I thank God for setting me free,” Brown told reporters. “I thank my family for sticking by me all these years, especially my mom.”
Brown was involved in two robberies in 1981 and — even though another man wielded the gun — was charge with armed robbery, attempted murder, attempted robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Prosecutors later acknowledged Brown wasn’t carrying a gun, and in a plea deal the charges were reduced to indicate that he was unarmed.
He was sentenced to a year in the county jail followed by 10 years probation. But within weeks of his release, he was charged with violating his probation by writing a check on a closed account.
Brown found himself in back in court and facing Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III.
Coe, known for dishing out tough sentences, gave Brown 30 years in prison for attempted murder, 15 years for aggravated battery, five years for attempted robbery — and 99 years for armed robbery.
The problem was Brown pleaded to robbery — not armed robbery — which made the 99-year sentence illegal.
Prosecutors said that with good behavior and other considerations, Brown should have been released years ago. His attorney, Darryl Rouson, said Department of Corrections records indicate the other sentences ended in 1996.
Outside court, Brown grinned and said, “Thank you, sir,” when Circuit Judge Daniel H. Sleet granted his motion to correct the sentence. He walked out into the arms of his mother, Elizabeth, and other family members.
Elizabeth Brown, 73, had driven all over the state visiting her son almost weekly while he was in prison.
“This is the most wonderful feeling I think a mother could have,” she said.
Coe was later elected state attorney. He committed suicide in 2000 amid a governor-ordered investigation of his personal finances and his handling of public records.