Fresno Jury Mistakenly Frees Career Criminal, Who Is Stabbed to Death an Hour Later

Friday, June 13, 2014
Bobby Lee Pearson (photo: Fresno Police Department via Associated Press)

A career criminal on trial for burglary was found not guilty by a Fresno County Superior Court jury when it misunderstood the judge’s instructions and then filled out the wrong form containing its verdict.

But less than an hour later, the good fortune that allowed Bobby Lee Pearson to walk out of court a free man ended when he was fatally stabbed during an altercation at his sister’s home. Police said he was killed by his sister’s boyfriend while picking up his belongings.

Jurors were deadlocked 8-4 in favor of guilty during their deliberations over the fate of Pearson, according to the Fresno Bee, but instead of telling the judge they were at an impasse, they filled out a form that declared the defendant not guilty. They didn’t inform the judge about what they had done until after the verdict had been read in court, making it official.

“I can’t believe it,” Judge W. Kent Hamlin reportedly said in court after the mistake was made clear. He told the jury, “I can't change it because double jeopardy has already attached. This has never happened to me in more than 100 jury trials that I have done.”

When Hamlin asked them why they did it, one juror said there were only forms for guilty or not guilty, but nothing for deadlock. So they guessed that deadlock meant the accused goes free.

Pearson was accused of breaking into an apartment with two other confederates a year ago. The resident said he caught them in the act of taking his video system and gun and fought with them. One defendant took a plea deal.

The jury unanimously found Terrel Minnieweather guilty, and told the judge so when he polled them. But they each said not guilty when polled about Pearson.

The jury was told to stick around because the judge needed to consider the prosecutor’s request for a second phase to consider additional charges that the defendants acted in concert as part of a gang. Over lunch, one of the jurors fessed up to a court official that he had really voted to convict Pearson.  When they returned to the courtroom, the judge dismissed the second set of charges.

Minnieweather, who has prior convictions for burglary and possession of a firearm, told police where they could find the stolen gun. He awaits sentencing and could get 30 years to life.

Pearson, who has multiple prior weapons convictions, walked.

Defense attorney Linden Lindahl blamed the jury’s youthfulness for the odd conclusion. “I call it a June jury,” he said, noting that college students often put off jury duty until the summer. “I guess they see things differently than our normal jurors.” 

But the jurors might object to that conclusion on the grounds it calls for speculation on the part of the observer. In 2008, a judge in Sydney, Australia, congratulated the jury for its rapt attention and copious note-taking during a complicated, three-month trial of two men accused of drug trafficking.

Then he had to toss the case and start over when it was brought to his attention that the jury had been participating in a Sudoku tournament since the trial’s second week.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Bobby Lee Pearson, 5-Time Felon, Freed when Jury Turns in Wrong Paperwork (by Ed Mazza, Huffington Post)

Career Criminal Is Killed Minutes after Jury Mistakenly Sets Him Free (by Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times)

Fresno Jury's Mistake Frees Career Criminal (by Pablo Lopez, Fresno Bee)

Can You Blame Them? Lengthy Trial Aborted after Jurors Played Sudoku (by Dan Slater, Wall Street Journal)

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