They Said He Killed His Lover in 1998. They Got It Wrong

Horace Roberts is exonerated in the death of Terry Yvette Cheek
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2018 4:47 PM CDT
They Said He Killed His Lover in 1998. They Got It Wrong
In this photo provided by California Innocence Project Horace Roberts, left, has his first meal after walking out of Avenal State Prison with California Innocence Project managing attorney Michael Semanchik in Avenal, Calif., Oct. 3, 2018.   (California Innocence Project via AP)

"It's a classic murder case, where you've got a husband, you've got a lover, and you've got a dead wife." One of those two men spent almost 20 years behind bars for the crime—and prosecutors now believe it was the wrong one. The AP reports Horace Roberts was released from prison Oct. 3 and fully exonerated Monday in the death of Terry Yvette Cheek, the co-worker with whom he was having an affair. Her strangled body was found alongside a highway in Riverside County, Calif., in April 1998, next to what seemed like telltale clues: Roberts' truck and a Lorus wristwatch believed to be his. Prosecutors argued he had killed Cheek after she threatened to put an end to their relationship and he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to 15 years to life. Now, prosecutors say DNA evidence indicates Cheek's husband, Googie Harris, and nephew were behind her murder—and that's not all.

That "classic murder case" quote comes from Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, which has worked for 15 years to secure Roberts' freedom and believes Harris purposefully left behind clues that would implicate Roberts. "I guess [Harris] was getting the ultimate revenge," Brooks tells the Washington Post. Roberts had lied about the affair when confronted by police, and prosecutors seized on that, even though he had an alibi for the night: He called Cheek a number of times from a pay phone near his house when she didn't show up as she was supposed to. DNA tests performed on the watch and Cheek's fingernails in 2013 and 2017 were key to Roberts' exoneration. Harris and Joaquin Leal are being held on $1 million bail. The Press-Enterprise reports Roberts could seek restitution of roughly $1 million from the state. (A man who never golfed was freed from prison thanks to the game.)

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