Man freed from jail because of California jury's mistake dies in fight hours later; 1 arrested

The Associated Press
June 12, 2014 12:20 PM

In this 2007 photo released by the Fresno County Superior Court shows Judge W. Kent Hamlin. Police in Central California say a man who was released from jail after a jury mistakenly signed a not-guilty verdict was killed hours later. Hamlin ordered defendant Bobby Lee Pearson to be set free from jail because the not-guilty verdict had been put on the record. Fresno police say Bobby Lee Pearson was stabbed to death early Thursday, June 13, 2014, after going to a home to get some clothing and belongings. He got into a fight with his sister's boyfriend, who then stabbed him. (AP Photo/Fresno County Superior Court)

FRESNO, Calif. - A burglary defendant who won his freedom because of a jury's mistake lost his life a few hours later when he was stabbed to death in a fight.

The jury in the trial of Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, mistakenly signed a not-guilty form Wednesday, and the flabbergasted judge said he had no choice but to order him to be released from jail because the verdict had already been put on the record.

It was too late when the judge finally learned that the jury was unable to reach a verdict, stalling on an 8-4 vote in favour of guilt. Prosecutors might have had an opportunity to retry Pearson, but by then, changing the verdict form would have meant Pearson would be tried twice for the same crime, which is illegal under U.S. law.

After being released from jail, Pearson went to the home of his sister, Lasandra Jackson, to get some clothing and belongings. Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said Pearson apparently got into a fight with his sister's boyfriend, 35-year-old Willie Gray.

The two had a history of problems, said Dyer, adding that investigators believe Gray killed Pearson, who was found dead in the street with a chest wound from a knife or gun and a cut on his stomach. Investigators found a steak knife near the body, Dyer said.

Gray was arrested and treated for injuries to his hands before being booked on suspicion of murder, said Dyer, adding that Pearson might still be alive if it weren't for the jury's "mishap." Pearson had a long criminal past, Dyer said.

William Terrence, who prosecuted the case, told The Associated Press that despite the bizarre chain of events that led to Pearson's release, the man he tried sending to prison didn't deserve to die that way.

"There's not a death penalty on a burglary," Terrence said. "I'm not sitting here thinking he got what he deserved."


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