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  • Jim Guy / Fresno Bee

    Police rope off the scene where burglary defendant Bobby Lee Pearson was fatally stabbed in Fresno after being released from jail late Wednesday following a jury’s procedural mistake.

  • AP

    Bobby Lee Pearson

  • AP

    Willie Gray

  • AP

    Judge W. Kent Hamlin

Out of jail by error, he’s killed in fight

Published: Thursday, Jun. 12, 2014 - 10:10 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 12, 2014 - 10:16 pm

A jury’s mistake helped free a career criminal from jail late Wednesday. An hour later, the man was mortally wounded on a central Fresno street.

Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, was the victim of a fatal stabbing. The boyfriend of Pearson’s sister has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Pearson was freed from jail at 11:57 p.m. Wednesday after a jury mistakenly signed a not-guilty form in his burglary trial. A juror told the judge there wasn’t a form to sign to say the jury was deadlocked.

“The question that comes about in an incident like this is, ‘If Bobby Pearson would not have been released, would this murder have occurred?’ ” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “And the obvious answer is, ‘No, he would have been in jail.’ 

Dyer said it was the first time in his 35-year career with the Fresno Police Department that he’d seen anything like that happen during a trial.

Just before 1 a.m., officers responded to a call on the 1400 block of West Dayton Avenue. Police found Pearson lying in the road with wounds to his chest and stomach. He was rushed to Community Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 1:25 a.m.

Dyer announced the arrest of murder suspect Willie Gray, 35, during Thursday’s news conference. Gray was taken into custody shortly before 5 a.m. at a relative’s apartment on the 1000 block of West Clinton Avenue, southeast of the crime scene.

Gray was being treated for injuries to his hands, but Dyer said Thursday that he would soon be booked into Fresno County Jail.

Police said Pearson went to his sister’s home on Dayton Avenue to get property he said belonged to him. Pearson and Gray then reportedly got into an argument, which spilled out onto the street.

A steak knife was found next to the gravely wounded Pearson, police said.

Dyer said Pearson had an “extensive criminal history,” including prior gang involvement and 11 convictions for charges including auto theft, possession of stolen property, burglary and weapon charges.

Pearson has a 9-year-old son with Mya Thomas, 36, of Fresno. On Thursday morning, Thomas said she had no details about Pearson’s death.

Police haven’t had much contact with Gray over the past six years, but before that, he spent 13 years in prison for a home invasion robbery in Fresno, Dyer said.

“I can’t believe it,” Judge W. Kent Hamlin said in Fresno Superior Court on Wednesday after he ordered Pearson to be set free from jail.

The jury was split 8-4 in favor of finding Pearson guilty. Had a mistrial been declared, prosecutor Billy Terrence said he would have retried Pearson, who had been in jail for 13 months.

“We would have continued prosecution on him and he would still be in custody,” Terrence said. “The idea that he was released under those circumstances and it ended for him like that is very unfortunate.”

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