RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) — A man who spent nearly 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit has finally reunited with the family he was forced to leave all those years ago, the result of painstaking work to exonerate him through new DNA evidence.

Horace Roberts held his son Brandon, who was 8 years old when his father was imprisoned in 1999, and his grandson at a South Carolina airport after being released from prison. Brandon’s twin Candice, his oldest daughter Franchette, and his wife Debra were there, too.

“Debra is my right hand and my left hand,” Roberts told the California Innocence Project, who took up his case in 2003. “I couldn’t have done this time without her. She stuck by me from beginning to end.”

From the start, Roberts maintained his innocence in the 1998 killing of Terry Cheek. Cheek, who was Roberts’ lover, was found strangled near Corona Lake in Riverside County.

According to the California Innocence Project, Roberts was set up by suspect Googie Harris. Harris was arrested with Joaquin Leal Friday in Cheek’s death. Harris was married to Cheek at the time, and Leal is Harris’s nephew, the Charlotte Observer reported.

On Monday, the day Roberts was declared factually innocent and had all charges dropped against him by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, The California Innocence Project posted a video of Roberts throwing his prison clothes in the trash and taking a swig of a Pepsi.

Roberts might have been released 10 years ago were he to have admitted to the killing and apologized. He didn’t.

“Because I didn’t do it, and I refuse to allow the system to rob me of what I had left,” Roberts said emphatically. “You took my pride, you took my dignity, you stole my self-worth. I was not gonna give you my soul.

“I’m glad to be home, and I’m never leaving them again. Thank God. Free at last.”

The Riverside County D.A. publicly apologized to Roberts Monday. “I am so sorry for what happened to you,” said Mike Hestrin. “All of us at the district attorney’s office are deeply impacted by what you have endured.”

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