DNA Evidence Exonerates a Man Who Spent 19 Years in Prison for the Death of His Lover

The California Innocence Project helped free Horace Roberts from prison.


|||Screenshot via YouTube/California Innocence Project
Screenshot via YouTube/California Innocence Project

In April 1998, Terry Cheek's strangled body was found near Corona Lake in California's Temescal Valley. Cheek left behind a husband, two children, and Horace Roberts, her extramarital lover and co-worker. Riverside County prosecutors said a watch belonging to Roberts was found near her body. It was largely on this piece of evidence that prosecutors sent Roberts away to prison for second-degree murder in 1999. Now, nearly 20 years later, the 60-year-old is the latest American to show that it is still possible to spend decades in prison despite being innocent of a crime.

A law school clinical program founded the same year Roberts went to prison became instrumental in proving his innocence. Following his conviction and a round of appeals, Roberts contacted the program. The California Innocence Project (CIP), which shared Roberts' story, requested DNA testing on the watch, the victim's fingernails, and the rope that was used in her death. While no DNA was found on the rope, there was a hit on the watch and the victim's fingernails.

Neither belonged to Roberts.

The DNA evidence matched Joaquin Lateee Leal, the nephew of Cheek's husband, Googie Rene Harris Sr. Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said that the new DNA evidence led him to dismiss the charges against Roberts and arrest Harris and Leal in connection with Cheek's murder on October 12. As for the watch, CIP's Justin Brooks speculated that the men were attempting to "set Roberts up."

Roberts' conviction was reversed and he was released from prison on October 3. He has since reunited with family in South Carolina.

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  1. Whila also proving him to be more Native American than Liz Warren.

    1. She’s got the DNA and the family story. That’s checkmate motherfucker.

      1. The story doesn’t match the DNA test.

        No one in her family has been claiming Peruvian ancestry.

  2. But is this guy 1/1024 Peruvian?

  3. This shit always serves as a total nut punch.

    Everybody here should find an innocence organization that they like and donate to it…?..

    1. The Innocence Project is pretty good.

      1. The Innocence project has freed over 362 wrongfully convicted persons.

        The DNA testing also led to 158 real perpetrators found.

    2. Good point. I will donate.

  4. Wasn’t DNA testing available in 1998?

    1. It was in its infancy and they needed more then than they need today to get a good match.

      1. You mean people really did not have confidence in DNA testing back then.

    2. Here’s how it was explained to me when I was volunteering with my state’s Innocence Project.

      There are several types of DNA testing, and technology has advanced so that samples which could not be tested reliably in the past are now viable.

      So, a sample that is too small or partially degraded may not have been testable in 1998, but more sensitive tests have been developed which allow it to be tested now.


        PCR (AKA “DNA Amplification”) invented in 1983, and led to a Nobel prize in 1993. By 1998, SHAME on the legal system for not having done this correctly and thoroughly!

        1. Hey remember last night when you were wrong about Toxoplasma gondii being a bacteria?

          Yeah, that same scientific ignorance of yours is at work here too.

          1. OK, so, then, what kind of parasite are you, Oh Great Wise One? Virus, bacteria, or protist? Or are you an even more evolutionarily advanced, multicellular parasite, like an intestinal tapeworm?

            1. Seems more like you’re the one hopelessly attached to me.

              1. Olivia Newton John on line 3.

        2. PCR can’t be used on mixed samples. It is also destructive, apart from the very new techniques developed in the last several years. So an intelligent attorney with a small sample wouldn’t run the risk of destroying it in 1998 on the off chance it was exculpatory.

          Stop discussing science, you are terrible at it.

          1. OK then, Great Science Wizard…

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            Compare the attributes listed there, to yourself, and come to the logical scientific conclusions about yourself!

            1. TuIpa|10.16.18 @ 12:13PM|#

              Quotes should be easy to find then if you’re not lying.

              reply to this report spam
              SQRLSY One|10.16.18 @ 12:25PM|#

              I can’t find jack diddly squat

  5. Perfect example why the Death Penalty is crazy.

    1. That jury must have been in a hurry to get out of there.

  6. There was a credible alegation of murder. Okay. A credible allegation. I am told this is enough.

    1. What happened to “innocent till proven guilty”?

      1. That is like five hundred years old and comes from a document written in Sanskrit. No one understands that stuff anymore.

    2. The way I understand the New Standard of guilt mere allegations are enough if you are a liberal woman accusing a conservative white male of drunken teenage groping decades earlier.

      If you’re a Trump-supporting woman who has been accusing a liberal former president of rape for nearly 20 years after the fact, then it’s nowhere near enough.

  7. So the real story is the husband killed his cheating wife and framed the boyfriend.

    Fcking genius.

    1. It would be one thing to have murdering someone on your conscience. But to have murder and knowing that an innocent person is in prison for it on your conscience would be something else. People really can learn to live with anything.

      1. But he wasn’t “innocent”. He was an accomplice in the adultery.

        I think history is full of examples of people killing over this.

        I am not suggesting this should be legal, but I am not exactly losing sleep over it, either.

        1. Seriously? 20 years in prison for a murder you didn’t commit is your idea of justice for adultery?

          1. Gotta say Bubba doesn’t lose sleep over much. Civilization vs. theocracy is the reason we don’t jail people for adultery any more.

  8. As for the watch, CIP’s Justin Brooks speculated that the men were attempting to “set Roberts up.”

    And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for some amazing police work Riverside County police!

  9. The ex-husband and the nephew can call the prosecutor, the jury and the judge as witnesses for the defense can’t they? How can the ex and the nephew now be charged with committing a crime that was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to have been committed by somebody else? At the very least, if the first guy’s conviction was a result of a mistaken certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt, shouldn’t this raise the shadow of a doubt of whether or not this prosecution too might be a mistaken certainty?

    1. IANAL, but if I were, this would be the first step in defending these guys – the courts were dead certain they had the right guy the first time around and it turns out they were wrong, now they’re dead certain they’ve got the right guys this time around, who’s to say they aren’t wrong here as well? Doesn’t this have to raise at least a little doubt in the jurors’ minds?

      1. I think it absolutely would. DNA found at the scene is conclusive if the accused has no connection to the victim and thus there is no other reasonable explanation for it being there other than the accused being guilty. But when the accused is a close relative of the victim, the presence of their DNA at the scene means exactly jack and squat in most cases.

        It is nice this guy got out of jail. I don’t think the jury should have convicted him. But, I am not convinced he is innocent or that the other two are guilty. He very well may have committed the murder. We likely can never know with enough certainty to convict any of them.

        1. >>>the presence of their DNA at the scene

          the nephew under the nails is likely dubious.

          1. Yes it is. But how hard is it to get someone’s DNA under your fingernails? I honestly don’t know. Do you really have to scratch them hard?

            The nephew is likely easier to convict if his DNA was found under her nails. But I think the ex husband will be very hard to convict if this is all they have.

            1. guessing the nephew gave up the ghost on the husband so he didn’t go down alone for this.

              I have never been scratched by an aunt – i bet it doesn’t come up often though in non-assault situations such that it could be excused here w/o at least inquiry.

              looks like a stronger case to me, but my gf lives on Investigation Discovery Channel where they’re always guilty so I may be inadvertently biased

              1. If the nephew turned state’s evidence, the jig is up. But if they both don’t say anything, this would be a fun case to defend. If the defense put on evidence that the nephew was around the victim a lot and especially near the time of the murder, is it reasonable to believe that she scratched the nephew some way and that not his murdering her explain his DNA being there? I think you could convince a jury it was, especially if you could build up a case against this guy or the ex husband. I would definitley want a separate trial if I were defending them.

                I really think the defense would have a fighting chance in this case if there isn’t a confession.

                1. >>> But if they both don’t say anything

                  there’s the rub. the dummies always talk.

    2. Sure it can. The ex husband and the nephew are free to argue that the first trial got it right and this guy is guilty. In fact, it is logically possible for all of them to be “legally innocent” in that it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt which ones if any of the three are guilty of the murder.

      I don’t think it is a certainty at all that the ex husband and the nephew will be convicted of this crime. The one guy was her husband. I would expect there to be some of his DNA on the wife’s fingernails. And maybe the watch was his. That doesn’t prove he committed the murder. His DNA on the rope might have done it but they didn’t find a match on that.

      So what do we have here? We have a woman who was mudered who had some DNA of her husband and a close relative of his on her fingernails and a watch found at the scene. That doesn’t prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt to me.

      1. Depends. If they angrily deny the charges and shed tears over the prospect of their lives being ruined, then that’s a dead giveaway they are guilty.

          1. [sniff]

  10. I don’t lik calling these programs “Innocence Projects” and the like, and calling the release of a prisoner “an exoneration”. It may be that the guy is innocent, it may be that he should be exonerated, but it’s not necessarily so, regardless of what DNA may tell us.
    On the other hand, some folks are convicted on mighty skimpy evidence?I’ve never been called for jury duty, but if I am, I’d require some compelling evidence to convict, regardless of my feelings.

    1. The latter, folks being convicted on skimpy evidence, is a real problem.

  11. I don’t like this DNA evidence stuff,but know of enough Police/Prosecutor railroading to think this is probably true.

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