Valley News -

Defendants in 20-year-old murder case make court appearance


Last updated 10/17/2018 at 10:33am

Courtesy photos

Googie Rene Harris, 62, of Jurupa Valley, and Joaquin Latee Leal, 51, of Compton were arrested Friday.

RIVERSIDE - A man and his nephew made their joint initial court appearance on Tuesday, Oct. 16 on charges of killing the older defendant's wife 20 years ago near Corona and letting another man take the rap and serve nearly two decades behind bars before he was exonerated.

Googie Rene Harris, 62, of Jurupa Valley, and Joaquin Latee Leal, 51, of Compton were arrested Friday following a Riverside County District Attorney's Office investigation that resulted in the release of Horace Roberts of Temecula, who had been in the 19th year of serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Harris and Leal are each charged with first-degree murder. They appeared before Superior Court Judge David Gunn, who appointed each man a public defender and scheduled their joint arraignment for Nov. 1 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Both defendants are being held in lieu of $1 million bail -- Harris at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, Leal at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.

On Monday, District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced that the pair had been charged with the April 1998 slaying of Terry Cheek.

Hestrin said Roberts, who was convicted of Cheek's murder in 1999, was released from state prison on Oct. 3 based on a review of forensic evidence that exonerated the now-60-year-old man.

Hestrin credited attorneys at the San Diego-based California Innocence Project, which took on Roberts' appeal in 2004, with prompting the D.A.'s Conviction Review Committee to take a comprehensive second look at the case. The county's top prosecutor said the project's examination of DNA evidence not introduced during Roberts' trial proved pivotal in securing his release.

The same evidence will now be used in the proceedings involving Harris and Leal.

According to prosecutors, Roberts and the victim worked together and had been intimately involved.

She was strangled and her remains found on a rock outcropping near Lake Corona in the Temescal Valley. Sheriff's investigators soon turned their attention to Roberts as a result of evidence gathered at the scene and

interviews conducted in the days following her death.

Roberts' supporters had long alleged that her husband and Leal framed him for the murder.

He is now with family in South Carolina.

"What happened to Horace Roberts is tragic,'' Hestrin said. "We as prosecutors always strive to be vigilant and follow the truth. Once I learned of the new DNA findings, I immediately directed that all charges be dismissed. Mr. Roberts has my commitment that we will aggressively apply new technologies to past, present and future prosecutions.''


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