After 28 years behind bars, a Trinity County man has had his murder conviction reversed.
Bob Fenenbock, now 66, has been incarcerated since 1991, when a man was stabbed to death in the Hawkins Bar area. At the time Fenenbock was 38, an Army veteran who owned a mining claim and operated a wood-cutting business.
He became one of eight defendants tried in what investigators believed to be the vigilante mob killing of Gary “Hop” Summar after rumors circulated around a campground that Summar had molested the young daughter of his roommate’s girlfriend.
Roommate Bernard MacCarlie, his girlfriend, and her three children moved out of their trailer and into the Hawkins Bar campground, where a number of people including various drifters began to have discussions about what to do because law enforcement was not acting, according to a press release from Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law.
A few days later, a family looking for firewood found Summar’s partially buried body. The autopsy reported that he had been stabbed more than 70 times. Law enforcement found MacCarlie’s knife at the scene, covered in blood, NCIP said.
The Trinity County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case, and ultimately eight defendants were charged.
Court proceedings for the multiple defendants were split up into several trials which were held in Solano and Contra Costa counties after a change of venue was granted due to press coverage here.
In separate trials, Fenenbock was convicted of murder in the case and then MacCarlie was convicted on criminal conspiracy to commit murder. Another man tried along with MacCarlie was acquitted. Five other defendants were convicted on criminal conspiracy.
The NCIP said evidence that came out in the MacCarlie trial would have exonerated Fenenbock had the order of trials been reversed.
Shortly after Fenenbock’s conviction, the news release states, MacCarlie admitted to stabbing the victim alone.
MacCarlie testified that he snapped when he heard of the alleged molestation by Summar and had beaten and stabbed Summar during an out-of-body experience, NCIP said.
MacCarlie was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. NCIP noted that the man who was tried with MacCarlie, whose circumstances were the same as Fenenbock’s, was acquitted. The difference was the jury in this case got to hear MacCarlie’s confession, NCIP said.
Regarding Fenenbock, “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 NCIP’s lead attorney on this case, Paige Kaneb.
The MacCarlie confession was considered “post-conviction evidence,” for Fenenbock and the California Supreme Court found at the time that it didn’t point “unerringly” to innocence. In 2017, a law went into effect that newly discovered evidence can be presented if it “more likely than not” would have changed the outcome of the trial.
Eventually with the intervention of the Superior Court and Fenenbock’s attorney Jolie Lipsig, the NCIP was asked to take the case which it reinvestigated.
On Aug. 23, nearly 28 years after Fenenbock’s arrest, his conviction was reversed by Judge Mattice in the Solano County Superior Court.
The state has 60 days to either retry Fenenbock or appeal the court’s decision. Fenenbock, who had already been found suitable for parole and eligible for elderly parole was declared immediately eligible for release on the same day the court reversed his conviction.
On Tuesday Trinity County’s current district attorney, Donna Daly, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the reversal and the decision as to whether Fenenbock will be retried.
From NCIP, attorney Kaneb said, “This case shows how easily a wrongful conviction can happen, and how hard it is to fix one … It took nearly three decades, a team of lawyers, an amazing investigator, a new law, and a great judge to set Bob free.”
The trial locations and crime that Bernard MacCarlie was convicted on have been corrected in this article.