After having a murder conviction overturned and evidence against him later dismissed last fall, Bob Fenenbock was ruled entirely innocent of the 1991 killing of Gary “Hop” Summar in Hawkins Bar in 1991. While that may sound like a string of great news for Fenenbock, one has to remember that he spent 28 years in prison for a crime someone else confessed to.

Asked by phone Monday how he’s been doing, Fenenbock calmly replied, “I’m smiling.”

He explained that the latest ruling came from a motion filed by the Innocence Project, and the judge made the ruling at a status conference to which Trinity County representatives were invited but did not show.

In the hearing, in which Fenenbock, attorneys and the judge met via Zoom, the court granted the motion for a finding of innocence pursuant to penal code 1485.55, which allows him to make a claim to the California Victim Compensation board.

A claim has been filed on his behalf by the Northern California Innocence Project, Norton Firm and Morrison and Forester, his pro bono  attorneys.

Asked how much he could potentially collect on the wrongful imprisonment, he said, “I believe it’s $140 for every day, and they had me for 28 years.”

A rough calculation puts that amount at more than $1.5 million.

He said he’s hoping that the victims’ compensation board will find him suitable but it would only go so far. Fenenbock is now 67 years old.

“There’s nothing anybody can give me that’s worth my life,” he said. “That’s what they took — a lifetime from me, my children and my grandchildren … that can’t be paid for.”

He said his family has never given up on him and is taking care of him today. He noted that two of his daughters grew up in foster care because their mother died while he was in jail looking at a possible death penalty. At the same time, his other two daughters grew up without a father.

Background

The decades-old case has a long list of characters, ranging from the victim, Summar, to Bernard MacCarlie, who confessed to the murder, to investigating Sgt. Dan Kartchner and Randy Hogrefe, a then 9-year-old boy (who is now 39).

According to records from the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, nine people, Robert Bond, Bernard MacCarlie, Leafe Dodds, Ernest Knapp, Anthony Lockley, Barbara Adcock, Cherri Frazier, Sue Hamby and Fenenbock were charged in December 1991 and October 1992 with various crimes relating primarily to the death of Summar.

Innocence Project attorneys asserted that Fenenbock was convicted and jailed not for the murder, but because of government conduct egregious enough to prejudice his constitutional rights.

In August 2019, a Solano County Judge found that McCarlie’s confession would likely have changed the outcome in Fenenbock’s trial and ordered another trial. The Trinity County DA’s Office asked that the retrial be transferred back to Trinity County.

An evidentiary hearing was later conducted to hear testimony from Hogrefe, whose testimony led to Fenenbock’s conviction.

“The Court heard [Hogrefe]’s testimony,” court minutes said. “And, initially, it appeared that [Hogrefe] was not adding anything to the proceedings. But a careful review of the transcript of his testimony reveals, in this Court’s view the following: [Hogrefe] does not currently have a memory of seeing Hop Summar stabbed.”

It was determined that the young boy may have been coerced into giving testimony.

“He was also told, if you don’t testify this way, these people are going to get out of jail. And he says that this scared him. He was told these people getting out of jail are going to kill you, and he was scared. And he testified he’s still scared for himself and his family,” court minutes state. “This tremendous pressure on a 9-year-old which still exists 30 years later is an unimaginable pressure which amounts to coercion.”

“The Court finds that, in this case, based on the evidence presented, the evidence that would be used in a retrial, with the exception of the additional evidence that we now know that MacCarlie testified that he and he alone committed the murder, retrying Mr. Fenenbock on this evidence that … there was instances of untruths, lies, deception, coercion on the part of Sgt. Kartchner,” court minutes state.

“To implant a memory in a 9-year-old child that, in the Court’s view, is such conduct that is grossly shocking, it’s outrageous, and it violates the universal sense of justice. So the Court finds and concludes that the prosecution’s conduct denied the defendant a fair trial and he would be prevented from obtaining a fair trial in the future if he were to be retried, thus the Court dismisses the information against Mr. Fenenbock.”

Justice after 30 years?

Asked if he can now file suit against Kartchner, Fenenbock said he did not know if it’s possible.

“I’m real sure he is not liable for prosecution,” Fenenbock said, asserting that it would be difficult to find someone willing to prosecute a cop in a 29-year-old case.

“Kartchner did this,” Fenebock said. “He set this up, he pulled it off.”

Fenenbock said he’s been catching up with family but the adjustment hasn’t been easy.

“I’m still not all the way here on the inside,” he said. “There’s part of me that will always be in prison, watching my back … I’m free, don’t misunderstand that, but it rankles me that he did this, knew he was doing it, Trinity County allowed him to do it, sanctioned him doing it and, it’ll never cost him a dime and he’ll never do a day for it. It just doesn’t seem right to me.”  

“You know what it’s like sitting in prison knowing the state wants to kill you for what they think is good reason?” he said. “It would have been good reason if I’d done it because that poor guy (Summar) got slaughtered and he didn’t molest anybody.”

Asked for his plans from now forward he said, “I’m as free and legal as anyone else. I’ve never been convicted of a felony.”

He also said he plans to pursue legal action against Trinity County.

“It was 30 years ago, but someone has to be held accountable, right?”  

He said most people who become aware of the story today might think he found a legal loophole but stressed it’s not the case.

“I’m out because I didn’t have anything to do with the murder of Gary ‘Hop’ Summar,” he said.

Requests for information from Kartchner are pending.

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