Bobby Lee Pearson got what was probably the luckiest break of his life on Wednesday when a jury mistakenly set him free after a burglary trial. It soon turned into the unluckiest break of his life: An hour into his accidental freedom, he got fatally attacked, reports ABC30 in Fresno. The strange chain of events began when jurors couldn't reach a unanimous verdict about Pearson. Eight thought he was guilty and four didn't, and at that point—as the judge had explained to them—they should have sent a note saying they were deadlocked. Instead, they signed a not-guilty form.
Judge W. Kent Hamlin learned of the mistake only after the verdict had been read into the public record and had to release the career criminal, reports the Fresno Bee. Otherwise, Hamlin would have declared a mistrial and ordered Pearson held for a second trial. "I can't believe it," he said in court. "I can't change it because double jeopardy has already attached. This has never happened to me in more than 100 jury trials that I have done." Upon being released at 11:57pm Wednesday, Pearson went to his mother's house to collect some belongings and got into a fight with his sister's boyfriend, say police. He was stabbed, with a steak knife found next to his body, and was pronounced dead around 1:25am. "There's not a death penalty on a burglary," the prosecutor in Pearson's case tells AP. "I'm not sitting here thinking he got what he deserved." (Click for another unusual courtroom story.)