Black man exonerated in 1998 killing gets $11 million payout from California county

Defendants in a wrongly convicted 1998 killing of a black woman have been paid $11 million by a California county. 

The Associated Press reports that 63-year-old Horace Roberts filed a federal lawsuit against Riverside County last year, claiming the county and sheriff’s department falsely accused him of murdering his girlfriend and coworker, Terry Cheek. According to him, prosecutors were denied evidence, police reports were falsified, and evidence of the real suspects was ignored. 

California Innocence Project DNA evidence links Cheek’s divorced husband, son and nephew to her death. The evidence mostly points to her estranged husband Googie Harris Sr. and his son Googie Harris Jr.   

Plaintiff’s Attorney: “During their investigation, defendants suppressed the physical evidence, eyewitnesses’ testimony, and the evidence they obtained implicating Harris Sr. and his family members from state prosecutors, plaintiff’s attorneys, and plaintiff’s defense counsel.  The defendants allowed the real criminals to escape and instead attempted to frame an innocent person,” the lawsuit states. 

After being found factually innocent in a court case, Roberts was released in October 2018 from Avenal State Prison. In addition to Harris Sr. and Leal, he was also charged with Cheek’s murder. 

His involvement led to Harris Jr. being arrested and charged a year later. Harris Sr. had jealousy over Cheek’s relationship with Roberts, according to California Innocence Project. The evidence that Roberts killed Cheek was planted by him, his nephew, and his son, as part of their scheme to make it appear that Roberts killed Cheek. Their representatives attended Robert’s parole hearings and demanded he remain behind bars. Initially, the investigation was also tainted by police misconduct, as false reports were written and evidence was suppressed pointing to the real killers. 

In Riverside Superior Court, Leal and Harris Sr. will appear for a pretrial hearing on Oct. 22. As part of his plea deal with prosecutors, Harris Jr. actually admitted to being an accessory to murder after the fact last February.  Deputy District Attorney John Hall says the Riverside County prosecutor plans to sentence him next February. 

This article was penned by Jonathan P. Wright. Jonathan is a freelance writer for multiple mainstream publications and CVO of RADIOPUSHERS. You can read more of his work by clicking here.  


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