DNA evidence exonerates murder convict

What you need to know:

  • Four days later Terry’s body was found lying on some rocks midway between her home and workplace and a mile from where the truck was found.

On April 14, 1998, Terry Cheek failed to arrive at her job on the nightshift at a diagnostic testing facility in San Juan Capistrano, California.

She is reported to have left her home for work at around 10pm driving a Nissan truck belonging to Horace Robert, her co-worker.

Four days later Terry’s body was found lying on some rocks midway between her home and workplace and a mile from where the truck was found.


Subsequent investigations showed that Terry had been struck on the head and then strangled with a rope found near her body. A wrist watch was found near her body and the watch was similar to, if not the same watch, that Horace once wore.

Terry Cheek, 32 years old at the time of her death was married to Googie Harris with whom she was locked in a bitter divorce battle.

It was also known that she was involved in a sexual relationship with Horace Robert, her co-worker. Harris knew of this relationship as did Robert’s wife.


Police focused on Robert as a suspect after he repeatedly denied that he was having an affair with Terry, even when this was the subject of the divorce battle between Terry and her husband, and an open secret at her workplace. Horace at first denied to the police that the watch found near Terry’s body was his, but later admitted that it was his, although he said that he had last worn it for some time because it no longer worked.

Third account

Horace gave a third account saying that he had given the watch to a friend. Horace’s wife, Debra, turned over to the police several watches that Horace owned and often wore, including two that were similar in appearance to the watch found at the crime scene. The watch was later to become a focal point of the prosecutor’s argument to the jury. To the prosecutor this was compelling evidence.


On April 27, 1998, Horace was arrested and charged with second degree murder and in March 1999 his trial commenced. Prosecution presented evidence that although Horace reported to work the night Terry was killed, he gave inconsistent information in respect to his whereabouts that evening and why he needed a lift to work that time. The prosecution contended that Horace needed a lift because he had killed Terry and left his truck on the side of the road. Evidence was presented that the two had often quarrelled.


It was common knowledge that Terry regularly picked up Horace and the two drove to work together, which information Horace did not want to disclose to the investigators. He was Terry’s supervisor and he feared that he would be fired if his employer learned that he and Terry were romantically involved while the two were still married to, and not divorced from, their respective spouses.  

A purse belonging to Terry was found in an apartment that she shared with Horace. One of Terry’s daughters from a previous relationship testified that Terry was carrying that purse the night she was last seen alive.

Second trial

The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared in April 1999.  Horace went to trial a second time in May 1999 and in June, another mistrial was declared when the second jury, again, was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. In July 1999, Horace went to trial a third time and on 16th July, the jury convicted Horace of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in Prison. The Court of Appeal upheld this conviction in 2000 and two other petitions were all denied.


In 2003, the California Innocence Project at the California School of Law began investigating Horace’s case and ultimately petitioned for DNA testing. In 2013, lawyers for Horace filed a petition seeking a new trial, citing DNA testing performed on the wristband of the watch found near Terry’s body. The petition said that a mixture of DNA from at least three males was found on the wristband and that the major contributor was Harris’ son. Horace was excluded as contributor to the mixture.

More DNA testing was performed. Tests on the fingernail clippings from Terry’s left hand were matched to a relative of her husband. DNA profiles from the right hand nail clippings and an apparent bloodstain on her pants were of an unidentified male. None of the DNA profiles matched that of Horace.

The rope found near Terry’s body was orange and black, the same kind that Terry’s husband used for his dog and a strand from the rope was consistent with that found at the home of Terry’s husband.

Set free

In May 2018 the case against Horace was re-examined and handed over to the Conviction Review Unit. On October 2, 2018, the prosecution agreed to vacate the conviction of Horace and further agreed to his immediate release from prison.

On October 3, 2018 Horace walked out of prison and was granted a certificate of innocence. On October 15, 2018, Horace was officially exonerated of murder and murder charges were filed against Terry’s husband. Horace regained his freedom, thanks to advances in DNA technology which have now generated interest to review similar cases.