A man who spent more than four months in jail on robbery charges that could have landed him a life sentence is free after a serendipitous meeting behind bars with the real bandit.

Allen Henderson had been tried once for an Oct. 18 holdup at a northern Utah Chevron gas station. The jury had hung and prosecutors were holding him in the Weber County Jail pending a retrial.That's where he bumped into David O. Callister, who had just been arrested for a recent string of armed robberies in the area.

Henderson's defense lawyer, Jim Retallick, said the two had a conversation that went something like this:

"He told Allen, `I know you didn't do it because I'm the driver of the car for the guy who did,' " Retallick said.

"But for one juror, the grace of God, and Allen meeting Callister in jail, he'd be doing five years to life in prison," Retallick said. "And that to me is an absolutely terrifying thought."

Callister has since been charged with the Chevron robbery, along with Charles Mathew Evans. The men are also accused of several other robberies in a crime spree police say lasted four months and stretched through three Utah counties.

Callister's comments to Henderson in February sparked an investigation by public defender Duane Moyes, who eventually discovered that Callister and Evans had been picked up by police in Abilene, Kan., last November.

The time of that arrest corresponded to a gap in the Utah holdups. When Kansas authorities kicked them loose, the robberies in Utah resumed.

Investigators tracked Evans to northern Utah in late February and arrested him on March 11, when he confessed to being the gunman in the Chevron holdup.

Police acknowledged the mistake and Henderson was freed March 3.

Ogden Police Lt. Randy Watt insists his detectives played the case by the books. A witness to the holdup, in fact, still insists Henderson is the culprit.

"We think it was unfortunate that he was arrested and we regret the inconvenience," Watt said. "But the facts and circumstances met the evidentiary standards at that time. This is a very rare occurrence."

Meantime, Rettalick said his client has left town.

"I'm not sure where he is," Retallick said. "Allen may have lost confidence in the local law enforcement community."