Bobby Lee Pearson, a five-time felon from California, walked out of a Fresno courtroom this week a free man, not because a jury exonerated him of his burglary charges, but because the jury foreman accidentally signed the wrong form. The 37-year-old crook had gained his freedom, but within two hours, lost his life in a fatal stabbing.
Writes a report from The Associated Press, as carried by NBC News: “The jury in the trial… 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.”
In the trial, eight of the 12 jurors concluded that Pearson was guilty. However, a unanimous vote was needed, and the four remaining members were not convinced. Therefore, paperwork was filled out to report their deadlocked stance to the judge, in which case a retrial or mistrial may occur.
Explains the Huffington Post: “The jurors were given two verdict forms, one for ‘guilty’ and one for ‘not guilty.’ When they didn't see a form for ‘deadlocked,’ they turned in the ‘not guilty’ form.”
Defense attorney Ralph Torres was stunned. It was the easiest case he had ever defended. “In my 26 years, I've never seen a case like that where a jury totally misunderstands the nature of the process,” Torres said.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin explained why he had to allow the accidental decision to stand. “I can't change it because double jeopardy has already attached,” Judge Hamlin said. “This has never happened to me in more than 100 jury trials that I have done.”
According to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, the “Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits anyone from being prosecuted twice for substantially the same crime.”
But it didn’t take long for Pearson to get back into a kerfuffle. Police said he went home and was involved in a fight with his sister’s boyfriend, whose name was not released. Pearson was stabbed and pronounced dead. The boyfriend was arrested.
The prosecutor in the Pearson’s burglary case cautioned on thinking that Pearson somehow got what was coming to him.
“There's not a death penalty on a burglary,” said prosecutor William Terrence. “I'm not sitting here thinking he got what he deserved.”