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Calif. man mistakenly freed is killed

FRESNO, Calif. — A burglary defendant who won his freedom because of a jury’s mistake lost his life a few hours later when he was stabbed to death in a fight.

The jury in the trial of Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, mistakenly signed a not-guilty form Wednesday, and the flabbergasted judge said he had no choice but to order him released from jail because the verdict had already been put on the record.

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The jury had been unable to reach a verdict, stalling on an 8-to-4 vote in favor of guilt. Prosecutors might have had an opportunity to retry Pearson, but by then changing the verdict form would have exposed Pearson to double jeopardy.

‘‘I can’t believe it,’’ Superior Court Judge W. Kent Hamlin said after setting Pearson free, according to The Fresno Bee.

After being released from jail, Pearson went home to get some clothing and belongings when Pearson apparently got into a fight with his sister’s boyfriend, Fresno police Sergeant James Rios said.

The two had a long history of problems, said Rios, adding that the boyfriend stabbed and killed Pearson, who was found dead at the scene. The boyfriend’s name has not been released.

William Terrence, who prosecuted the case, said that despite the bizarre chain of events that led to Pearson’s release, the man he tried sending to prison did not deserve to die that way.

‘‘There’s not a death penalty on a burglary,’’ Terrence said. ‘‘I’m not sitting here thinking he got what he deserved.’’

Terrence said he is still trying to understand the jury’s confusion. He said he explained the verdict forms in closing arguments, and so did the judge.

‘‘Apparently, the message wasn’t quite received,’’ Terrence said.

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