Monday, September 27, 2021

Riverside County pays 11 million to wrongfully convicted man who has served 20 years in prison

Riverside County has paid 11 million to a former Temecula man who spent 20 years in prison for killing his girlfriend before being acquitted by DNA evidence in 2018.

Horace Roberts’ lawyer, now 63 and living in South Carolina, signed a settlement agreement with the county on May 2, 2020, to end a federal lawsuit filed by Roberts. July.

The settlement does not cover Roberts ‘attorneys’ fees or any liens associated with the lawsuit.

Roberts’ lawyer declined to comment, and Roberts could not be reached for comment. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Googy Harris Sr., (Watchara Formisinder photo, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

Roberts alleged in his lawsuit that Riverside County Sheriff’s Investigators charged him with the April 14, 1998, murder of his 32-year-old girlfriend and colleague Terry Gall, suppressing evidence from prosecutors and denying police reports. And they actually ignored all the evidence that pointed to the real killers.

Prior to his arrest and the end of his life, Roberts was a 40-year-old father of two and overseen at Quest Diagnostics in San Juan Capistrano, where he had been employed for a decade and where he met Gall. Roberts also served 8 1/2 years in the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 1987 according to his lawsuit.

DNA evidence obtained from the California Innocence Project helped to link Gal’s estranged husband, Googy Harris Sr., his son, Googie Jr., and Gal’s nephew Joaquin Lial to his murder through marriage.

Has in fact been acquitted

Roberts was released from Avenal State Prison on October 3, 2018, after a Riverside County Superior Court judge declared him virtually innocent. Harris Sr. and Lial were later arrested and charged with cheek murder. Harris Jr. was arrested and charged more than a year later, in December 2019.

Riverside County pays 11 million to wrongfully convicted man who has served 20 years in prison
Joaquin Lille (Watchara Formisinder photo, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

Attorneys for the California Innocence Project say Harris Sr. was involved in the violent murder of Roberts’ involvement with his estranged wife. They said the three suspects made evidence to frame Roberts and even went so far as to attend a parole hearing claiming Roberts was locked up.

But according to Roberts’ case, that’s only half the story. Although the California Innocence Project said Roberts ‘guilt was not due to police or prosecutor misconduct, Roberts’ case alleges that the murder investigation was tainted by false police reports and evidence of repression pointing to the real killers. No physical evidence found at the scene of the crime linked Roberts to the murder of Cheek.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in 2018 that the evidence against Roberts at the time of Gal’s murder included the location of Roberts’ truck, which was found abandoned on Interstate 15 where Gal’s body was dumped; Cheek purse, found at Roberts’ home; And Roberts is not truthful with the police about his position.

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Allegedly the evidence has been suppressed

The lawsuit alleges that Gall left his purse at the Temecula home with Ramberts, but the sheriff’s investigators wrote a false report that Gall’s family members told him he had his purse with him last night – a witness statement that never existed.

“Throughout their investigation, the defendants suppressed physical, eyewitness, and evidence obtained from Harris Sr. and his family members by the state prosecutor, the plaintiff, and his criminal defense attorneys. In this way, the defendants let the real killers go free and instead focus on sorting out an innocent man, ”according to the lawsuit.

Riverside County pays 11 million to wrongfully convicted man who has served 20 years in prison
Googie Ren Harris Jr. in his testimony in Riverside County Superior Court on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. (Richard K. D. Attlee, SCNG)

Gall left his home for work on the night of April 14, 1998, and was never seen alive again. Four days later, on April 1, his body was found by three fishermen, who were dumped on a rocky embankment in Corona Lake near Thamescale Canyon Road. A black and orange rope and a man’s Loras wrist watch were found near his body. He was killed by suffocation.

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A Roberts attorney said the black and orange rope found at the scene of the crime was the same type of rope Harris Sr. used to run a dog into his home.

The tire track was found near Guy’s body, which was returned on Temscale Canyon Road, not matching Roberts’ truck, which allowed Roberts to drive the cheek, according to the lawsuit.

Multiple witnesses, according to the case, told investigators that the wristwatch found at the crime scene did not belong to Roberts. Investigators, however, noted in a report that Roberts’ wrist was exactly the same size as the owner of the Loras watch.

The DNA extraction from the watch coincided with Harris Jr., which led to his 2019 arrest. Such DNA testing technology was not available at the time of the murder, and when the California Innocence Project brought its results to Hestrin, he reopened the murder investigation, eventually releasing Roberts and leading to the arrest of three suspects.

Investigators, according to the case, also found evidence from multiple witnesses that Gall was in an unstable relationship with Harris Sr. and court records show that Harris Sr. was offensive, threatening and surveillance on Gall at various times.

During a press conference in October 2011, Hestrin called Roberts’ conviction and imprisonment a “tragedy” and publicly apologized.

Harris Sr. and Leal will next appear in Riverside Superior Court on October 22. Under an appeals agreement with prosecutors, Harris Jr. was convicted on February 7, 2020 and will be convicted of murder after the truth and sentenced on February 15, 2022, said Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall.

Riverside County pays 11 million to wrongfully convicted man who has served 20 years in prison
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