California Innocence Project

After spending more than 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Horace Roberts was declared factually innocent today 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 and will be charged with the murder tomorrow.

The California Innocence Project 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 Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project and a Professor at California Western School of Law. “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, the California Innocence Project 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, the California Innocence Project 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. Read more.