Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, must have believed that nothing could hurt him after the good luck he received on Wednesday after being set free from police custody, all because the Central California jury hearing his burglary case accidentally signed the verdict form for not guilty, when in reality they were deadlocked. His amazing luck ran out just hours after his release when he was involved in a fight and killed.
When the mistake was realized, it was too late for the verdict to be changed because it had already been recorded as not guilty. Had the jurors notified the judge before filling out the verdict form, the trial would have been declared a mistrial due to a hung jury. A mistrial would have allowed the prosecution to retry Pearson in a California court, but due to double jeopardy laws, Pearson could not again be brought up against charges after a verdict had already been recorded in the case.
Due to the recorded not guilty verdict, California Superior Court Judge W. Kent Hamlin was forced to order that Pearson be released from jail, after which Hamlin said, “I can’t believe it, ” and continued by saying that in the over 100 jury trials over which he has presided, this had never occurred before, especially since Judge Hamlin had polled the jurors after the verdict was delivered and all 12 of them had nodded their assent to the not guilty verdict, after which the verdict was recorded and a lunch recess was given before a second portion of the trial would resume.
It was during lunch that one of the jurors approached a court staff member to say that he had voted that Pearson was guilty. The confusion for the jury was in the forms they were given to fill out once their verdict had been reached. Although there was a form for guilty and a form for not guilty, jurors could find no form indicating that the jury was hung. It was later discovered that eight of the jurors had voted that Pearson was guilty. If unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the jury is told to send a note to the judge indicating that they are deadlocked, in which case a mistrial could be declared, leaving open the possibility for the defendant to be retried on the charges.
Pearson, whose record includes five felony convictions, was on trial along with two co-defendants for breaking into an apartment and stealing a gun and a video system last year. The occupant of the apartment caught and wrestled with one of the people charged, but ultimately could not make a firm identification of the burglars. One of the defendants was given a plea deal before the start of the trial. After a two-week trial, Terrel Minniweather, 31,, one of Pearson’s co-defendants, was found guilty Wednesday morning and could face a sentence of 30 years to life when sentenced on July 10. The errant not-guilty verdict for Pearson was delivered afterwards.
According to Fresno, California, police Sgt. James Rios, after his release, Pearson went to his home and picked up some clothes and other personal items. Early Thursday morning, he became involved in a fight with his sister’s boyfriend, with whom he had a history of quarrels. The as-yet-unidentified boyfriend fatally stabbed Pearson during the fight.
The attorney for Minniweather, Linden Lindahl, said that the judge had done “everything by the book” and, as such, he was surprised that the jury had not understood their task. He blamed the mistake on what he calls a “June jury,” which he described as a jury formed from young students who wait until after their school term is completed to begin their jury duty service.
By Jennifer Pfalz