60-Year Old Man Falsely Accused of Murder Finally Freed From Prison After 20 Years

by October 19, 2018

Riverside, Calif. — Horace Roberts, an African American man from California who was framed for the murder of his lover, has been fully exonerated after new evidence proved him innocent. Recent DNA testing of evidence found on the crime scene pointed to the two suspects responsible for the murder, the victim’s husband and nephew. Meanwhile, new arrests have been made and Roberts finally gets to enjoy freedom after spending 20 years in prison.

On April 1998, police found a woman, identified as Terry Yvette Cheek, strangled and lying on the lake shore. Found nearby was a pickup truck abandoned on the side of California’s I-15 in Riverside County. Initially, the investigations led to Cheek’s lover and co-worker, Horace Roberts, who was the owner of the truck. A wristwatch found in the crime scene was believed to be his, too.

Roberts was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and was sentenced to 15 years to life. But years later, the California Innocence Project found that the wristwatch wasn’t Roberts’ and he wasn’t the one driving his truck.

New evidence from the DNA testing connected Cheek’s husband, Googie Harris, and Harris’ nephew, Joaquin Leal, to the crime. Harris, now age 62, and Leal, now age 52, have been arrested in the case and are being held on murder charges in lieu of $1 million bail.

Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, said Roberts was a victim of a “setup” by Cheek’s jealous husband, Harris. He told The Washington Post, “I guess [Harris] was getting the ultimate revenge: First setting him up for the crime, then making sure he gets put away for life. And then going to his parole hearings to make sure he stays there.”

Brian Sussman, the retired Riverside County prosecutor who tried Roberts for murder three times, was remorseful. He said, “I thought we were doing the right thing. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. It should have never happened.”

Roberts has been out of prison since October 3. He is now in South Carolina with his family, including his wife who was with him despite the trials and his three children, who are now adults.

The California Innocence Project welcomed Roberts as he stepped out of jail. They recorded a video as he freely walked and tossed his prison clothes into the trash can and as he satisfyingly sipped soda in the back seat of the car.

“This is what I love most. This is what I miss more than anything, is my freedom,” Roberts contentedly said.

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