California Innocence Project (CIP) client Horace Roberts has been exonerated.
After spending more than 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Roberts has been declared factually innocent of the murder of his former lover Terry Cheek. It was announced that Cheek’s husband, Googie Harris, and his nephew Joaquin Leal, have been arrested on suspicion of murder, with bail set at $1 million each.
“I could not believe it was me walking out of prison,” Mr. Roberts said in an interview on Tuesday. “When you are in prison, you do not know if you will ever get out.”
CIP took on Roberts’ case in 2003. “The Project initially became interested in the case because there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime,” said California Western’s Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project. “The body was found along Interstate 15, and Roberts’ truck was found nearby. That was used at trial to link him to the crime, but it made no sense that he would leave his fully operable truck along a highway and walk away from the crime scene.”
In 2007, CIP conducted DNA testing on crime scene evidence that revealed two unknown male profiles that could not be distinguished and matched to the DNA databank. In 2017, CIP conducted more sophisticated DNA testing that was not available at the time of trial or in 2007. DNA under Cheek’s left-hand fingernails matched Joaquin Leal, a convicted sex offender. DNA under her right-hand fingernails and on a bloodstain on her pants matched an unknown male.
“No one had any idea who Leal was since his name did not appear in any of the case files,” said Michael Semanchik, Managing Attorney at the California Innocence Project. “Leal is Googie Harris’ nephew, and ultimately the investigation led back to both of them committing this murder and leaving Cheek’s body on the side of the freeway.”
“Googie Harris set Roberts up,” continues Justin Brooks. “It’s the oldest story there is in the murder business. Husband kills wife who is cheating on him. The twist, in this case, is that the husband then set up the lover to go to prison for the rest of his life.”
“One of the most outrageous facts of this case is that Harris continued to maintain the lie and showed up at Roberts’ 2011 parole hearing to oppose his release,” says Semanchik.
“These are the days we live for at the California Innocence Project,” says Brooks. “Horace Roberts is free, and home with his family and justice is finally being served.”
The California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project receives approximately 2,500 claims from inmates each year and has freed 29 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception. Read more at: https://CaliforniaInnocenceProject.org