Late Wednesday night, after a jury mistakenly found him not guilty of burglary charges, a Fresno, Calif. man was released from jail and killed hours later. Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, reportedly went home to get his belongings, got into a fight with his sister’s boyfriend and was stabbed.
When the jury was unable to reach a verdict, members accidentally signed a not-guilty form. By the time Superior Court Judge W. Kent Hamlin, who presided over the case, learned that the jurors had actually deadlocked it was too late. The law required Pearson be released because the verdict had already been recorded. “I can’t believe it,” he said.
Prosecutor William Terrence said it did not make sense how the jury could misunderstand the judge’s instructions. He said that both he and the judge explained the verdict forms. A juror told the judge there was no form to sign to say they were deadlocked. However, when the jurors could not come to a consensus, they should have sent a note to the judge. “Apparently, the message wasn’t quite received,” he said.
The decision was divided with eight to four in favor of a guilty verdict. Terrence said had a mistrial been declared, he would have re-tried Pearson. “We would have continued prosecution on him and he would still be in custody,” Terrence said. “The idea that he was released under those circumstances and it ended for him like that is very unfortunate.” Terrance said the judge asked the jury collectively if not guilty was its verdict. “No one stood up and said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. That’s not my verdict,'” Terrence said. “They nodded along.”
During a news conference, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer expressed his belief that the jury’s not guilty form error led to the man’s killing. He said the question that needed to be asked as was whether this murder would have happened if Pearson was not released. “The obvious answer is, no, he would have been in jail,” he said
This was not the first time crime Pearson had been accused of. He had previously been convicted of several felonies before his last trial. According to Dyer, he had an “extensive criminal history,” which included gang involvement and 11 convictions which included auto theft, possession of stolen property, burglary and weapon charges.
The man who allegedly stabbed Pearson, 35-year-old Willie Gray, was arrested and charged with suspicion of murder. According to Dyer, the two had a previous history of problems. Gray was treated for injuries before he was taken into custody.
Pearson and two others were accused of breaking into an apartment and stealing a video game system and a gun last year. The same jury found his co-defendant, Terrence Minnieweather, guilty on the same day. He will be sentenced next month and could serve 38 years in prison.
Officials in the case feel that if the jury had not erred in finding him not guilty the Fresno man would not have been killed. He would still be in custody, possibly awaiting retrial. Pearson would have been sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison had he been found guilty.
By Brandi M. Fleeks