8 out of 12 jurors found five-time felon Bobby Lee Pearson guilty of burglary. But when the jury mistakenly entered a not-guilty verdict, Pearson walked away from the courtroom as a free man.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin was forced to order Pearson to be set free from jail, due to the jurors’ misunderstanding. Judge Hamlin was not pleased with the situation, The Fresno Bee reports.
“I can’t believe it,” Hamlin told the jury. “This has never happened to me in more than 100 jury trials that I have done.”
The confusion seems to have arisen from the instructions the jury received. If the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, they were told, they were to inform the judge that they were “deadlocked.” The jury did not reach a unanimous verdict; they were split 8-4, finding Pearson guilty. But they were only provided with two forms, “guilty” and “not guilty.” They didn’t see a “deadlocked” form, so they turned in the “not guilty” form as the next-best option.
After the mistaken not-guilty verdict was on record, Judge Hamlin was unable to reverse it. And so Bobby Lee Pearson walked free.
Hamlin, who was reportedly so frustrated that he was promised to “chill out,” blamed the jury for the mistake. The jury was made up of young college students who were home for summer.
“I call it a June jury,” Lindahl told The Bee. “I guess they see things differently than our normal jurors.”
It’s unclear what he meant by “normal jurors.”
Here’s a report from local Fresno station KSFN-TV: