Horace Roberts

County of Conviction:

Convicted of:

Sentence:

Arrest:

Release:

2018

case details

Horace Roberts was wrongfully convicted of killing Terry Cheek in 1998. Cheek and Roberts had begun to have an affair when they both worked at Quest Diagnostics. Both were married with children at the time. As the relationship advanced, their significant others discovered the affair. Roberts and Cheek moved into an apartment together in Temecula. Cheek filed for divorce from her husband, Googie Harris, Sr., and it quickly became contested.

The Crime

In April 1998, Terry Cheek didn’t show up for work for her night shift at Quest Diagnostics in San Juan Capistrano, California. Her husband, Googie Harris, Sr., told the police she left their Riverside home around 10 p.m.

A police officer found Horace’s truck parked with blinking lights on a highway. Four days later, Terry Cheek was found dead near a lake, not far from where her truck was parked. Initially, Harris said Cheek left in Horace’s truck, with whom Cheek was having an affair. Later, Harris said she left in her car, a Volkswagon Rabbit.

Investigators thought Cheek might have been meeting Roberts or going to a meeting spot where Roberts usually picked her up for work. Roberts became a suspect because he denied the affair and gave conflicting stories about his whereabouts when Cheek disappeared. He was also Cheek’s supervisor and didn’t want their relationship known.

Roberts was arrested and tried for murder. The prosecution said Cheek was hit on the head and strangled. They also said Roberts called in sick the night Cheek disappeared and needed a ride to work, suggesting he killed her and left his truck on the road.

Evidence showed Cheek and Roberts argued before her disappearance. One of Cheek’s purses was found in Roberts’s apartment, where they had lived together. Cheek’s children thought she had left the Riverside home with the same purse. The trial ended in a mistrial twice due to the jury’s inability to agree to a unanimous decision. But in the third trial, Roberts was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

New Evidence

Roberts appealed his conviction multiple times, but it wasn’t until Roberts’ attorney, Michael Semanchik, got involved in 2013 that new evidence surfaced. DNA tests on a watch found near Cheek’s body didn’t match Roberts but matched Harris’s son. The same went for DNA on a rope near the crime scene, linked to Harris’s dog rope.

Semanchik also combed through the family court records that showed Cheek and Harris were engaged in a bitter divorce proceeding. Both had been violent towards one another as they fought for custody of the kids and possession of the Riverside house. While Harris claimed at trial the pair had rekindled their relationship, leading Cheek to move back home, the truth is she moved home to attempt to claim ownership of the home. Just weeks before her murder, Cheek made additional filings that showed the relationship was still strained.

More DNA evidence under Cheek’s fingernails and on her jeans pointed to Joaquin Leal, Harris’s nephew. In 2018, Roberts was released from prison, and his conviction was overturned. Charges were brought against Harris and Leal. Harris and Leal pleaded not guilty. In December 2019, Harris’s son was arrested for involvement in the murder.

Conclusion
This case highlights the importance of evidence preservation. Had the crime scene evidence not been preserved, as DNA technology advanced, there would not have been an ability to search for the truth in this case. It is likely that without the DNA evidence, Roberts would still be in prison and the true perpetrators would be free, left to commit additional crimes.

our work

related Cases