Innocent man jailed in Texas since 1979 now free
Cornelius Dupree Jr., left, and Innocence Project lawyer Nina Morrison talk to CNN after Dupree became a free man.
January 4th, 2011
01:43 PM ET

Innocent man jailed in Texas since 1979 now free

A Texas man imprisoned 30 years ago on aggravated robbery charges had his conviction overturned on Tuesday after DNA evidence exonerated him.

Dallas County Judge Don Adams overturned Cornelius Dupree Jr.’s conviction Tuesday, clearing his name officially.

"It's a joy to be free," Dupree, 51, said outside court.

Dupree has served more years in a Texas prison for a crime he did not commit than anyone else in the state who was later exonerated by DNA evidence. Only two other people exonerated by DNA have spent more time in prison in the entire country, the Innocence Project said. Texas has freed 41 wrongly convicted prisoners because of DNA testing since 2001, more than any other state.

Dupree told CNN after becoming a free man that he had "mixed emotions" about the hearing considering how long he had been incarcerated.

"I must admit there is a bit of anger, but there is also joy, and the joy overrides the anger," he told CNN. "I'm just so overwhelmed with the joy of being free."

The judge's decision followed comments from Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who said the DNA testing shows Dupree "did not commit this crime."

Dupree is trying not to be too angry, despite having 30 years of his life taken away.

"I think that could have happened to anyone," he told CNN. "It's just unfortunate that it happened to me. The system needs to be corrected somehow."

That system he refers to includes Dallas specifically, where a record 21 people have been exonerated on DNA evidence, and Texas as a whole.

"Cornelius Dupree spent the prime of his life behind bars because of mistaken identification that probably would have been avoided if the best practices now used in Dallas had been employed,” Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said in a press release. "Let us never forget that, as in the heartbreaking case of Cornelius Dupree, a staggering 75% of wrongful convictions of people later cleared by DNA evidence resulted from misidentifications.”

Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, told CNN "an enormous number" of the wrongly accused people convicted in Dallas and around the country were convicted on the basis of mistaken witness identification.

But she said that big improvements in those procedures have been made "so that what happened to Mr. Dupree doesn't happen to anyone else."

Morrison attributed Dupree's exoneration also to the work of the district attorney who has been examining previous convictions closely - and to Dallas County's saving of evidence.

"Dallas has been a leader in saving evidence," she said, noting that even though the policy was evidence had to be saved from cases from 1981 and later, evidence from Dupree's case in 1979 still existed.

"So it was something of a small miracle" that it was preserved, she said.

Watkins, the district attorney, said there were really no standards in place about how to keep evidence, but when he came into office he made it his job to do whatever he could to "not just to seek convictions but to seek justice."

"We created a unit that specifically looked at claims of innocence," he said. "And unfortunately it shows people who made those claims were truly innocent."

Watkins works with Morrison and others at the Innocence Project now, hoping to right wrongs from the past, and bring trust back to a system that has been brought into question.

"It gives us credibility now," he said. "[Residents] actually believe in what we're doing, that we're here not just to seek convictions but to seek justice and seek the truth."

Dupree was paroled six months ago after DNA tests results came back. He was declared innocent on Monday, the Innocence Project said.

Dupree was accused of being one of two men who forced a 26-year-old woman and another male into a car at gunpoint in 1979, forcing them to drive the car and robbing them in the process, according to court documents. The two men also were accused of raping the female, court documents said. But, prosecutors did not pursue rape charges in the case because it would not result in additional jail time, according to the Innocence Project.

The female victim initially identified Dupree from a photo line-up, but the male was unable to do so, according to court documents. At trial, however, both victims said Dupree and his co-defendant Anthony Massingill were the ones who committed the crime. They were convicted, and Dupree was sentenced to 75 years. Massingill, who is also serving time for a separate rape charge, is expected to also have his conviction set aside, the Innocence Project said.

Dupree has been fighting for his innocence since the day he was arrested, and for years following his conviction claiming he was mistakenly identified as the suspect. The Court of Criminal Appeals turned him down three times.

“Mistaken identification has always plagued the criminal justice system, but great strides have been made in the last three decades to understand the problem and come up with fixes like those being considered by the state Legislature that help minimize wrongful convictions,” Morrison said in a press release. “We hope state lawmakers take note of the terrible miscarriage of justice suffered by Cornelius. When the wrong person is convicted of a crime, the real perpetrator goes free, harming everyone.”

Post by:
Filed under: Courts • Crime • Justice
soundoff (1,011 Responses)
  1. stevie68a

    Texas is the as hole of the nation. It should be ridiculed at every chance you get. Please, please, secede.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Alas Stevie, I sincerely wish we could....that is my dream. And yes, Texas sucks!!!! Please do not attempt to move here. You WILL NOT like it!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ted

    I wonder if Haley Barbour feels that this version of Southern racial prejudice is just not as bad as he remebered?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. scotonfire

    A truly amazing storey of survival,and a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • SingleStepper

      Shh! You wanna get sued by the Invictus people!

      January 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DB

    Mr. Cornelius Dupree Jr.’s should receive $2500 per month for every month he was jailed as rightful compensation for his lost life, career, family, and time, if not more. He served 24 hours a day, obviously no vacation time or sick leave was allowed. He should be given a tax free check by the State of Texas for $75,000 minimum and a full state retirement, since he most faithfully worked for the State of Texas for 30 years, again with no vacation, sickleave, or emergency leave. This kind of haphazard court system goes beyond belief. Where is the innocent until PROVEN guilty beyond a shadow of doubt in these cases. And no I am not a black man, I am white and believe in justice the way it is suppose to be implemented. I do not support the present Govenor of Texas, Perry. He has to many things to hide under the rug.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • JasonB

      wrong. half of a lost life is worth $10 million. $75,000 wouldn't even scratch the surface. by your math $2500/month for 30 years is $900,000, which still is not enough.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geminiladi

      75,000 That’s all at 75,00 for 30years that 2,500 dollars a year you can make more than that picking up cans off the street? I hope you meant 7,500,000 and that still not enough!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melissa S

      I AGREE 1000% – he should be treated like a king for the rest of his life!!!!! I hope he can stay positive – that is so admirable!!!

      January 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Terry P

    Too many people are wrongly accused and convicted. Judges rarely will dispute a Cops testimony, and they lie almost as much as lawyers. Everything in the criminal justice system is results oriented. You're guilty until proven innocent.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • RodRoderick

      Hegh.. lets see – Sheriff arrested for stealing part of the shuttle, countless cops kicked off the force for sleeping with women in exchange for not writing tickets... Why wouldn't a judge trust them ;-)

      January 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amanda P

      It's not the judge's role to weigh the credibility of witnesses or dispute them (unless it's a bench trial) – it is the role of the jury to listen to testimony, weigh credibility and make the decision

      January 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ted

    BTW, Texas justice sucks

    January 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Yes, it is the worst in the nation. You'd have to be crazy to relocate to a place like that.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JasonB

    The thing that always gets me about these cases is that after release, the person freed has to fight the state for many years in order to receive compensation. It should be an automatic condition of release by exoneration. 30 years of one's life is worth millions of dollars. That was taken from him. Sure, he's been freed and his record wiped clean, but how can he get a job with 30 years missing from his resume?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jmt

    Well, what was this 'innocent' man doing in a police line-up thirty years ago? Generally speaking, a person doesn't get placed in a line-up unless they committed crimes in the past. Maybe him being incarcerated stopped him from committing another violent crime? No one thinks of it that way. I guess I mist be racist for thinking this way. As a white guy who has say in a prison cell, albeit for a very short time, for a crime I wasn't guilty of, the police can be intimidating to anyone to get a confession for something. I'm glad this man is out of prison now. It's a terrible tragedy he lost all those years. Stay out of trouble

    January 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      If he had been walking to the local 7-11 a block from where this took place, with no alibi for the time when it happened, especially if he had no money for lawyer fees, I can easily see him getting put into the lineup.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      ' Maybe him being incarcerated stopped him from committing another violent crime? No one thinks of it that way'
      seriously? you are using that as an argument?

      January 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • chimingin

      He was in the line up because the cops and DA didn't care what black man went to jail, as long as someone paid!! How dare you suggest that he deserved having 30 years of his life taken away because of the misindentification (or possibly lies) of a victim.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      To LivinginVA: People aren't 'pulled' off the street for lineups you idiot...they are already in jail. Thus, the previous post. DUH!

      January 4, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RodRoderick

    I just hope he receives a huge settlement so that he can enjoy what is left of his life. There's no "starting a career" at age 50+.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. phil

    Until our Judges and attorneys are sworn in, liars will convict the wrong man.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • chimingin

      Unfortunately, some will still lie or allow lies even if they are sworn. The fact that they are willing to alter due process suggests that swearing before God doesn't mean much to them!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. song

    I was strucked with his respond. If I was him, I would be really mad at the world and would claim compensation for my lost 30years.. He is amazing. I hope he enjoy his new life and it never happen again to anyone.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Arkozy

    I'm proud of the way you have persevered, Mr. Dupree, but I'm sure I have NO IDEA what you have been through! I hope your experience inspires the right people to make great improvements in the procedures that so utterly let you down. I hope the anger you must surely feel will not prevent you from enjoying the rest of your life!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JOn

    Jimmy Crack corn, we know you don't care, you were the prosecutor in this case

    January 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. justathought

    Hey Rick James and MikeD ...where the hell were you when blacks folks were being lynched, denied the right to vote, lost generations becuase of slavery, injustice, so on an so on ...the crimes comitted against African Americans permit the use of the race card whenever and wherever....have you ever said gee I wonder what the effect/affect the history of this country has had on innocent humans... ???? check yourselves

    January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigNickDigger

      hey justathought – where were YOU when thier own people were capturing and selling them? Ya sad huh that doesnt quite make it into the PC history books, so check your tribal facts and don't forget to smoke some crack on kwanzaa.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      When are certain people going to quit dragging around the past and using it as a crutch? I am also a minority but I'm sick and tired of constantly hearing about slavery and how the whites took Texas from Mexico and how poor people and obese people are treated differently, blah, blah, blah. Get off your pity box and use that energy to actually achieve something. I guarentee that non of you were alive when any of that happened. If you were born in the US there is absolutely NO reason why you could not or have not achieved anything that anyone else here has achieved. Stop your whining and grow up!

      January 4, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jen

    Why does it take so many years to free an innocent man when DNA has been available a long time? This is someone's life. Also, I agree with Keith. How can Conservatives call themselves Christian?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • itllgetbetter

      its getting better...it won't be long and the black man will be on top....then we'll sit back and watch the country go to hell...oh wait...we are already doing that!

      January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30