California county pays $11M to man exonerated in 1998 murder

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A California county has paid $11 million to a man who spent two decades in prison after being wrongly convicted of killing his girlfriend in 1998.

The payment settles a federal lawsuit filed by Horace Roberts accusing Riverside County and its sheriff’s department of manufacturing the murder case against him, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported Tuesday.

Attorneys for Roberts declined to comment, and Roberts could not be reached, the newspaper said. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco did not respond to requests for comment.

Roberts, now 63 and living in South Carolina, sued in 2019, alleging investigators failed to turn over key evidence to prosecutors.

Roberts was exonerated and freed after DNA testing of crime scene evidence led to the arrests of Googie Harris and Joaquin Leal in the 1998 strangling of Terry Cheek.

No evidence at the scene tied Roberts to the killing, the lawsuit said.

Harris was Cheek’s estranged husband, and Leal is the nephew of Harris. Both have pleaded not guilty.

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