He died as the only suspect in a boy’s murder. Decades later, DNA evidence clears his name

A sheriff's deputy holds open a door for an older man in handcuffs.
Fred Cain III, 69, is arrested in Gold Hill, Ore., this month. DNA evidence led to Cain and exonerated another man who had been tried twice in the 1987 killing of a 6-year-old boy in Solano County.
(Jackson County Sheriff’s Office)

Shawn Quincy Melton knew he was innocent, but he would not live long enough to see himself exonerated and cleared of all wrongdoing in the vicious 1987 murder of a 6-year-old boy in Solano County.

Melton had gone to police with information about the killing and sexual assault of Jeremy Stoner in Vallejo on Feb. 21, 1987, but he quickly became the suspect when police determined he had intelligence only the killer could know.

After his arrest, he was tried twice and jailed for 19 months. Both juries were hung and Melton never went to prison for the crime, but he remained a suspect and police would sometimes come to question him, according to a relative.


Melton died in 2000, according to public records, more than two decades before DNA evidence cleared his name and led to the arrest of another suspect.

“He wished that people knew and believed him when he said that he was innocent,” said his mother, Janis Melton.

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Although family believed Melton when he said that he was innocent, the police were unconvinced.

“They still thought it was him,” his mother said.

The Melton family was vindicated last week when police in Oregon joined with the Solano County district attorney and arrested Fred Cain III, 69, who was tied to the murder by DNA. Melton has been exonerated by DNA evidence as well, the district attorney said.

The case was as bizarre as it gets: Police became convinced that Melton had killed Jeremy after his psychologist called the station with a chilling lead about Melton about 20 minutes before he arrived to give his information, according to a Sacramento Bee report from the time.

The psychologist said that Melton had described fantasies about young boys, the Bee reported.

What started as an amateur sleuth delivering possible leads to his local police department turned into a marathon, 30-hour interrogation that included a polygraph test, a sketch police made of Melton, and authorities’ determination that Melton had multiple personalities and that his alter ego “John Wolf” actually killed the boy, according to the Bee.

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Melton denied being John Wolf many times and passed the polygraph test, but he eventually caved, changed his voice and admitted to being present when someone called “The Terminator” strangled the boy during a drug deal, according to the article.

Police announced Melton’s arrest on suspicion of murder the same day, telling reporters they were “100% certain” he was the killer.

Two juries were less convinced. Both were hung, with the first voting 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal and the second voting 9 to 3.

Charges were dismissed by a judge, but nearly three years later, the Solano County district attorney said Melton remained the only suspect.

Police “did go and see him even after he was released from jail,” his mother said. “It was hard to have to know that there were people that believed he was guilty when he wasn’t.”

Janis Melton said she was glad that police had now identified and arrested another suspect.

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Cain, an Oregon resident, was arrested Sept. 18 after DNA evidence implicated him in the killing of Jeremy. The arrest was announced Friday.

Authorities did not specify exactly what evidence cleared Melton of wrongdoing and led to Cain. The Solano County district attorney’s office said only that “advances in DNA technology have since exonerated Mr. Melton.”

Cain will be transferred to California, where he will be tried.

“I am so thankful to have such dedicated cold case investigators that no matter how much time goes by they remain steadfast in their commitment to solving these horrific cases,” said Solano County Dist. Atty. Krishna Abrams.

Janice Melton said that even if the break in the case came far too late to clear her son’s name while he was alive, he would be happy to know an arrest was finally made.

“I am glad with the DNA technology that they were able to find this suspect. It sounds like they have a pretty good case against him and are pretty sure he is the one who murdered Jeremy,” she said.

After the charges were dropped against him in 1988, Melton said his only hope was that the Stoner family would get justice.

“There’s nothing that anyone can do to bring back the loss of their son,” he told reporters. “I wish that Vallejo, the community, the press, the police and the D.A. would do one thing for the Stoner family — and that is to go out, work together, and get the person that did this crime.”