Posted Jun 12, 2014 04:10 pm CDT
Updated: After convicting a co-defendant in a California burglary case, a Fresno jury deadlocked 8-4 on the charges against Bobby Lee Pearson.
However, he was acquitted Wednesday when the jury mistakenly signed a not-guilty form, reports the Fresno Bee. A third defendant earlier took a plea.
Polled as the verdict was announced, all 12 members of the panel nodded their agreement, the newspaper says. The mistake was discovered when one juror later told court staff he had voted guilty, defense attorney Linden Lindahl explained. The jury was still at hand because another phase of the trial was scheduled for the afternoon.
By that point, it was too late to correct the error under double jeopardy law.
Stunned, Judge W. Kent Hamlin went over the jury instructions with the panel to try to figure out what went wrong when they returned from lunch, the Bee reports. They apparently understood instructions that guilty and not-guilty verdicts had to be unanimous, but were confused by verdict forms, which didn’t include a deadlock option.
“I can’t believe it,” Hamlin said as he ordered Pearson set free. “This has never happened to me in more than 100 jury trials that I have done.”
Lindahl attributed the unusual result to a “June jury” seemingly made up largely of young college students who had postponed their jury service until the school year was over.
“Hamlin did everything by the book,” he told the newspaper, adding: “There was nothing out of the ordinary.”
The Fresno Bee later reported that Pearson was fatally attacked within an hour of his release. He was freed at 11:57 p.m. Wednesday from Fresno County Jail and pronounced dead 1:25 a.m. Thursday at Community Regional Medical Center. A suspect in the slaying, who police say is the boyfriend of Pearson’s sister, was arrested shortly before 5 a.m.
Updated at 5:13 p.m. to report Pearson’s death.