A California man convicted in the stabbing death of a man suspected of sexually molesting a child has been exonerated after 28 years in prison thanks to newly discovered evidence, including the confession of the true killer, a lawyer said.
The conviction of Bob Fenenbock was reversed Friday by a judge in Solano County Superior Court in the case handled by the Santa Clara-based Northern California Innocence Project.
Fenenbock, who owned a mining claim and operated a wood-cutting business, was the first of several people to be tried in the 1991 killing of Gary Summar, who was beaten and stabbed to death at a campground in Trinity County.
Fenenbock was convicted on the testimony of a 9-year-old boy who defense lawyers said had been coached by a therapist and convinced by detectives that Fenenbock was part of a mob that conspired to kill Summar.
Shortly after the conviction, Bernard MacCarlie acknowledged killing Summar alone to avenge the molestation of his girlfriend’s daughter, lawyers for the Innocence Project said.
MacCarlie explained that he had been molested as a child and snapped when he heard that Summar had molested the young child living with them, the lawyers said.
MacCarlie was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Fenenbock, however, remained in prison because MacCarlie’s confession was considered “post-conviction evidence,” which, at the time, had to point “unerringly” to innocence to be considered.
The California Supreme Court found MacCarlie’s confession insufficient by that standard.
In 2017, Fenenbock learned about a California law that allows newly discovered evidence to be presented if it “more likely than not” would have changed the outcome of a trial.
Fenenbock reached out to the Northern California Innocence Project, which accepted his case last year.
“It took nearly three decades, a team of lawyers, an amazing investigator, a new law and a great judge to set Bob free, even though all they had against him was a kid who had been asked to make up a story that was completely contradicted by the physical evidence,” said Paige Kaneb, lead attorney on the case.
“This case shows how easily a wrongful conviction can happen, and how hard it is to fix one,” she added.
Prosecutors have 60 days to decide to retry Fenenbock or appeal the court’s decision.