/  09.16.2021

A California county has paid $11 million to a Black man who was wrongly convicted for the 1998 killing of his girlfriend.

According to the Associated Press, 63-year-old Horace Roberts filed a federal lawsuit against Riverside County and its sheriff’s department back in 2019 for framing him in the killing of his girlfriend and co-worker Terry Cheek. He alleged that they hid evidence from prosecutors, falsified police reports and ignored proof that pointed to the real suspects.

DNA evidence that was obtained by the California Innocence Project connected Cheek’s estranged husband Googie Harris Sr., his son Googie Harris Jr. and Joaquin Leal, her nephew by marriage, to her death.

“Throughout their investigation, defendants suppressed the physical, eyewitness, and documentary evidence they obtained implicating Harris Sr. and his family members from state prosecutors, plaintiff, and his criminal defense attorneys. In so doing, the defendants let the real killers run free and instead focused on framing an innocent man,” the lawsuit read.

Roberts was released from Avenal State Prison in Oct. 2018 after a judge ruled that he was factually innocent. Harris Sr. and Leal were subsequently detained and charged with Cheek’s death.

A year later, Harris Jr. was arrested and charged for his involvement. According to the California Innocence Project, Harris Sr. was jealous of Cheek’s relationship with Roberts. He, along with his nephew and son, planted evidence to make it look like Roberts was the one who killed Cheek. They even attended Roberts’ parole hearings, demanding that he stay behind bars. The investigation was also tainted by the police, who wrote false reports and suppressed evidence that pointed to the real killers.

Leal and Harris Sr. will appear in Riverside Superior Court on Oct. 22 for a pretrial hearing. Last February, Harris Jr. pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact under a plea agreement with prosecutors. He will be sentenced next February, according to John Hall, spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.


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