Fresno felon slain minutes after jail release on jury's mistake; suspect arrested

The Fresno BeeJune 12, 2014 

A 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.

A few minutes before 1 a.m., officers responded to a call on the 1400 block of West Dayton Avenue, just west of West Avenue and just south of Dakota 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 prior to that, he spent 13 years in prison for a home invasion robbery in Fresno, Dyer said.

The jury's mistake

"I can't believe it," Judge W. Kent Hamlin said in Fresno County Superior Court after he ordered Pearson to be set free from jail because the not-guilty verdict had been put on the record.

A juror told Hamlin there wasn't a form to sign to say they were deadlocked. The jury was split 8-4 in favor of finding Pearson guilty.

Pearson had been in jail for 13 months. Had a mistrial been declared, prosecutor Billy Terrence said he would have retried Pearson.

"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."

If he had been found guilty, Pearson would have faced between 15 and 20 years in prison. His co-defendant in the case, Terrel Minnieweather, was found guilty by the same jury Wednesday and faces 38 years in prison when he gets sentenced next month.

Staff writers Marc Benjamin and Pablo Lopez contributed to this report. Jim Guy can be reached at, (559) 441-6339 or @jimguy27 on Twitter. Carmen George can be reached at (559) 441-6386, or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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