Valley News -

Pair accused of two-decade-old murder arraigned


Last updated 11/30/2018 at 2:24pm

RIVERSIDE - A man and his nephew accused of killing the elder defendant's wife south of Corona two decades ago and letting another man take the rap and serve time in prison for it both pleaded not guilty on Friday, Nov. 30 to first-degree murder.

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

Harris and Leal were arraigned before Superior Court Judge David Gunn, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Dec. 19 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

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

District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced on Oct. 15 that the pair had been charged with the April 1998 slaying of Terry Cheek.

Hestrin said Roberts, 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.

The D.A. credited attorneys at the San Diego-based California Innocence Project, which took on Roberts' appeal in 2004, with prompting the agency's Conviction Review Committee to take a comprehensive second look at the case.

Hestrin 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's now with family in South Carolina.

Harris has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County. However, Leal has a prior for a 1998 sexual assault, court records showed.


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