Man spends 20 years in jail after wrongful conviction and his release is caught on camera

Aby Rivas
Oct 27, 2018
01:55 A.M.

After spending two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, a man started a new life and reunited with his family thanks to the California Innocence Project.


According to the organization’s page, Horace Roberts was convicted in 1998 after the prosecutor presented what they thought was irrefutable evidence that connected the man to the murder of a woman: a watch that supposedly belonged to him and that had been found next to the murdered victim.


Fifteen years later, DNA tests showed that the watch wasn’t Horace’s. It belonged to a family member of the victim that had enough reasons to want her dead.


Terry Cheek disappeared the night of April 13, 1998. Four days later, her body was found strangled on the shore of Corona Lake. Her two daughters and husband were the last ones to see her alive. When the murder investigation was launched, Horace Roberts became the number one suspect because he was having an affair with the victim.

But out of shame, the man decided to deny the affair, which didn’t help his case. For the people in charge of the investigation, the fact that Horace was lying about his relationship with Terry was a clear sign that he was covering up something else, like a murder, for example.


It took three jury trials to get Horace convicted.

The prosecution made sure to use Roberts’ inconsistent statements, lies about the affair, and the fact that his truck was found near the crime scene as proof. There was also the watch found at the scene and a purse in Roberts’ possession that one of Terry’s daughters believed her mom had on the night of her disappearance.


Roberts didn’t stand a chance against the prosecution, and he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years behind bars. However, he didn’t give up on his freedom that easily.


After hearing from a fellow inmate about the California Innocence Project in 2003, Roberts filed a request for the organization to take his case. The non-profit accepted, and they were working on proving the man’s innocence since then.


They did DNA tests on the watch; the rope used to strangle Terry and skin found under the woman’s nails. No DNA was found on the rope, but samples from the watch proved that the object didn’t belong to Horace but the eldest son of Terry’s husband, named Googie Harris Jr.

As for the DNA under Terry’s nails, it belonged to an unidentified male.


With this information, the California Innocence Project filed a petition to get Horace exonerated in 2012, but the judge rejected it. But they didn’t give up, and last year, they asked for DNA test in all the pieces of evidence, including Terry’s clothes.


Now, with enough DNA to search on the databases of DNA profiles, the unknown man was identified as Joaquin Leal, 52, who turned out to be Terry’s husband’s nephew. Leal was a convicted sex offender.


The two men were arrested on suspicions of murder, and their bail was set at $1 million each.

Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project, said:

"Googie Harris set Roberts up. It’s the oldest story there is in the murder business. Husband kills wife who is cheating on him. The twist in this case is that the husband then set up the lover to go to prison for the rest of his life.”



On October 2, 2018, the district attorney agreed to revoke Horace Roberts's conviction. The next day, the staff of the California Innocence Project picked him up at the prison and took him to San Diego. After getting rid of his prison clothes and drinkin a pepsi for the first time in years, Roberts was ready to re-start his life.

A week later, he met with his family in South Carolina while the district attorney's investigation continued. On October 12, 2018, the Riverside District Attorney dismissed all charges against Roberts.

Source: YouTube/Pin Oquío

Source: YouTube/Pin Oquío


Horace Roberts is eligible for state compensation per the Section 1485.55 of the California Penal Code. According to the law, unjustly convicted prisoners like Roberts can receive $ 140 per day for each day they spend in prison.

Horace Roberts is the 29th person the California Innocence Project has released since the Project was created in 1999.



Meanwhile, ninety-four-year-old Juanita Fitzgerald's case has been causing outrage on social media. The senior was arrested and sent to jail after she stopped paying rent at the Franklin House nursing home where she had been residing for the last years.

The officials at the home warned Juanita to pay or they would evict her, but the lady replied: "Unless you carry me out of here, I’m not going anywhere.” She never expected them to take her words literally, as they called the police to have Juanita removed from the place.

Juanita is currently being held on a $500 bond at a Florida prison, and according to reports, she didn't want any help. "I don’t have anybody,” said Juanita. “My family is in Tennessee and I told them not to tell my son anything that’s going on … I don’t want them to help me. I don’t need no help.”

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