Horace Roberts embraces his wife after spending 20 years apart, but to get to their reunion more than a decade of legal work went into proving he is innocent of murder with the help of lawyers from the California Innocence Project.
Roberts was convicted of the 1998 murder of Terry Cheek of Riverside, the prosecution used inconsistencies in his testimony to implicate him as well as his truck that was left near the scene of the crime, although the lies in his story came from shame for having an affair with the victim.
The Managing Lawyer for the California Innocence Project, Michael Semanchik, said the evidence to convict Roberts was simply not there.
“Why would he have left his truck at the scene, if he was actually riding with her in the truck then you would think he would do the murder and then take the truck and go to work and pretend like nothing ever happened,” Semanchik said. “We knew that there was an unknown male on the left-hand fingernail, so we knew that and we had DNA from the watch but beyond that, we didn’t know who the finger DNA belonged to.”
Semanchik suspected Roberts was framed, but the question was by who?
During the 15-years of the CIP working the case, the DNA tests evolved to the point that lawyers were able to get a profile of the man who left DNA on the victim.
Semanchik said, “We got the evidence and we knew that there was this nephew that nobody knew about before.”
By March of 2018, the lawyers had a new lead, Cheek’s husband, Googie Harris and his nephew Joaquin Leal.
They took their findings to the Riverside County District Attorney but it would take six more months for Robert’s conviction to be reversed.
Semanchik said police could have found the right suspects early in the investigation, Harris had an abusive past towards Cheek.
He said, “An interrogation to the husband and really question him, he was the last person to see her alive as she left the Riverside house to go back to work, he said goodbye to her and followed her out the door.”
Harris and Leal are now charged with Cheek’s murder, meanwhile, Roberts is finally a free man after decades of claiming his innocence.
“It really is crazy because not only is Horace one of the nicest, kindest people that I’ve ever met,” Semanchik said. ‘But on the other side you have this husband who basically set-up and framed Horace for this crime and then continued to do these terrible things like show up to his parole hearings to oppose parole for countless times.”
Roberts is working with another legal representative in the lawsuit against Riverside County.