Oceanside man exonerated after 19 years in prison

Posted at 9:45 AM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 12:45:10-04

(KGTV) - An Oceanside man who spent nearly 20 years in prison is finally free after evidence proving his innocence came to light.

In 1999, Horace Roberts was sent to prison after being convicted of strangling Terry Cheek, a co-worker he was having an affair with. Cheek’s body had been dumped along a canyon road near Corona Lake.

The California Innocence Project got involved in Roberts’ case 15 years ago.

“When we looked at the facts, it just made no sense,” said Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project. “Every year that goes by is another year of his life that he’s lost. It appeared to us right from the beginning that he was set up.”

Brooks and his organization knew Roberts was innocent and proving it would be the job of managing attorney Michael Semanchik.

“My role was trying to come up with evidence of innocence,” Semanchik said.

After losing several times in court, the Innocence Project decided to take another look at DNA evidence in 2016.

"We did DNA testing on everything, the victim's pants, her bra, her shoes, her socks, we re-did her fingernails," said Semanchik.

Once the evidence was uploaded, they received a hit, leading to Cheek’s husband, Googie Harris, and his nephew Joaquin Leal.

Semanchik said, "All the while we weren't allowed to tell anybody because they had this active investigation ongoing, and we didn't want to compromise that."

On Monday, authorities in Riverside County announced Harris and Leal were arrested in connection with Cheek’s death.

After walking out of prison, Roberts said, “This is exciting to me, this is what I love most, this is what I missed more than anything, my freedom."

Roberts, who is now 60 years old, is in South Carolina with family members he has not seen in decades.

California Innocence Project officials said of Roberts’ case: “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 set up the lover to go to prison for the rest of his life.”