Riverside County has given $11 million to a Black man who was unfairly imprisoned for the murder of his girlfriend. Horace Roberts spent more than two decades in prison before being exonerated in 2018 according to DNA evidence.
Roberts, who is now 63 and lives in South Carolina, had filed a federal case, which has now been settled. The settlement did not cover Roberts’ legal bills or any liens related to the litigation, according to Mercury News.
In his lawsuit filed on September 28, 2020, Roberts claimed that detectives used a forged police report to frame him for the murder of his girlfriend and coworker. Investigators, he claims, failed to turn over crucial material to prosecutors.
“Defendants withheld the physical, eyewitness, and documentary evidence they acquired implicating Harris Sr. and his family members from state prosecutors, plaintiff, and his criminal defense attorneys throughout their investigation. In doing so, the defendants let the real killers go free while focusing on framing an innocent guy, according to the claim.
In July 1999, Roberts was found guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of his lover Terry Cheek in April 1998. According to investigations, Cheek vanished on April 13, 1998, and never made it to her late-night shift at Quest Diagnostics, where she worked with Roberts.
After four days, her strangled body was discovered along the highway near Lake Corona, prompting suspicions of Roberts, who, according to coworkers, was having an affair with Cheek, despite the fact that she was married.
When questioned by police, Roberts lied about the affair out of shame and embarrassment, according to his lawyers, but detectives discovered the lying to be a cover-up of his murder.
During the trial of the case, prosecutors utilized his lies against him. Worse, a truck he owned was discovered near the crime scene, and a handbag in his possession was also claimed to be the late Cheek’s.
Roberts was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder based on a watch found near Cheek’s body that also belonged to him.
From his prison cell, Roberts contacted the California Innocence Project, which requested DNA testing from Cheek’s fingernail scrapings, the watch found beside her body, and the rope used to strangle her over the next decade.
The Innocence Project did more advanced DNA testing in 2017 than was available at the time of the 1998 trial. After a review of forensic evidence, Roberts was exonerated on October 3, 2018. Following Cheek’s death, Googie Harris and Joaquin Leal were apprehended. Harris was Cheek’s spouse, and Leal is Harris’ nephew. According to the Associated Press, both have entered a not guilty plea.
Roberts was a father of two and worked as a supervisor at Quest Diagnostics in San Juan Capistrano before his arrest. According to the lawsuit, he had previously served in the Marine Corps for 8 1/2 years and was honorably discharged in 1987.
According to a study, African-American murderers are nearly 50% more likely to be innocent and serve longer prison sentences before being exonerated.
In addition, an examination of almost 2000 exonerations in the United States in 2017 indicated that African Americans are considerably more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and illegal drug activities.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations report, of the 1,900 people convicted of crimes and eventually exonerated between 1989 and October 2016, 47 percent were African Americans.
That’s three times the population’s representation.
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