VALLEJO, Calif. - A man wrongly accused of murdering a 6-year-old Vallejo boy in 1987 died before being exonerated by DNA evidence, the Solano County district attorney said Tuesday after charging a second man in the slaying.
"This death, this murder, of Jeremy Stoner, it rocked this whole community," DA Krishna Abrams said at a news conference.
A suspect, Shawn Melton, was arrested and charged, but two juries could not reach a verdict, and the case was dismissed.
It turns out those juries got it right. A different man, Fred Cain, 69, has now been charged with kidnapping and murdering Jeremy.
"It’s unfortunate that Mr. Melton was tried for a case, a crime he did not commit," Abrams said.
The prosecutor said DNA technology that was not available decades ago, has tied Cain to the killing.
"It’s such an important tool because it can not only solve crimes, like we believe it solved this one, but it can also exonerate somebody who’s innocent," Abrams said.
But Melton, the original suspect, died in 2000 "without being able to be here, to know he’s exonerated," Abrams said.
Four days after Jeremy disappeared, his body was found on Sherman Island in the Sacramento Delta. He had been sexually assaulted and strangled. The discovery dashed the hopes of Vallejo citizens who turned out at a candlelight vigil.
It turns out Cain, the current suspect, was interviewed by police shortly after the kidnapping. But that same day, Melton, a self-styled investigator, walked into the Vallejo Police Department with theories about the case.
"He was either an investigator or private investigator or a wannabe investigator, but he really wanted to help solve this case," Abrams said.
But instead, Vallejo police quickly zeroed in on Melton.
"They lost their objectivity to fully investigate the case. They just became personally involved," said Peter Foor, who was Melton's public defender and later became a judge.
Earlier this month, Cain was arrested at his Oregon home with the help of the Jackson County sheriff's office.
"It’s nice that hard work pays off," said DA's investigator Kevin Coelho, a former Vallejo police officer. "We can't bring Jeremy back. Absolutely horrible what the family’s gone through for the last 37 years."
Henry Lee is a KTVU crime reporter. E-mail Henry at Henry.Lee@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @henrykleeKTVU and www.facebook.com/henrykleefan