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.”

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Filed under: Courts • Crime • Justice
soundoff (1,011 Responses)
  1. Boulders B

    The only good thing to come out of Texas are Pimp C and Bun B!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Well, you would know

      January 4, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bobby G

    Mercy me... I can’t even BEGIN to imagine.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michelle

    I think that those of you that are bashing Texas, making racial statements, and talking about illegal immigrants have completely missed the point of this story – it has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that this INNOCENT man spent 30 YEARS of his life behind bars for doing NOTHING. The article does not mention anything about Dupree being an illegal alien so what do y'alls comments about the government cracking down on illegal immigrants have anything to do with this story. As for the bashing of Texas as a whole ... NO ONE STATE is PERFECT ... as a Texan I am proud of our state and the leaders that have come from the state. It is UNFORTUNATE that the DAs of the state have sent so many innocent people to prison but again no one state is perfect and unfortunately with crimes that took place before the introduction of DNA testing all the court systems or juries could do was go by what evidence was presented.

    I think we should all focus on the fact that this man was wrongfully accused and see if the state of Texas is going to compensate him in any fashion for the time that he has lost and can never get back because of the court systems misconviction.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. IceT

    The "Innocence Project" exonerated Steven Avery in Wisconsin ... not long after his release he showed his appreciation by capturing, raping, murdering and burning the body of an innocent young woman Theresa Halbach, and encouraging his nephew to join him! DNA evidence alone does not always "prove" innocence, it only proves that there is more DNA at the scene.
    I have no reason to think Cornelius isn't innocent but the Innocence Project is not perfect!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • stejo

      I think you're missing the point...avery wasn't guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned. Did that make him an upstanding citizen? No, it just made him innocent of that particular crime. The law isn't about right and wrong – the law is about whether or not something is legal. IP proved him innocent of a particular crime...so what if he committed heinous crimes afterward? sounds like their record is pretty perfect to me...and I'm sure they wish they hadn't taken up his case, but still, he should not have been in jail for a crime he didn't commit.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. .ajt

    Glad he's innocent and free! Texas owes him about 20 million.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. drno

    for all those degrading TX, remember that this stuff happens all over the country. The reason that so many Project Innocent cases have come out of Dallas is because it's one of the few counties that saves its evidence this long. Innocent inmates in other states don't have a chance because the evidence has been thrown out

    January 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Andre

    Man that's just plain crazy wrong!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bill krebs

    This man needs to get paid!!.......When all these people are suing over a dent in their car or a "fake" back injury, this man spent 30 years down.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. freedom ain't free

    I am happy for a person wrongfully convicted finally getting justice. That is all that matters.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kat

    yes BLACK & BROWN........i agree.....I would SUE EVERY PERSON THAT WAS INVOLVED! ..... this world do not know how to look pass the color of the skin.....i pray that Cornelius Dupree Jr can make it in this world......i hope he used the stated of Texas to get an education......we live and learn

    January 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. LEGALIZE IT

    Clearly, Texas is full of a majority of idiots and bigots and always has been. Dupree said "it couldve happend to anyone" he's just being nice. It would not have happened to a white man or a white woman. I dont know the stats but I can almost guarantee, most of the wrongly accused or minorites...

    January 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shaun

      I dont know the stats but I can almost guarantee, most of the wrongly accused or minorites...

      That is an easy assumption since most of the folks in prison belong to some minority group. Stop disgracing your race and do something productive with your life, don't ask for handouts and actually earn a living there is a start. It's not about the color of your skin every race has people that are a waste of space and would rather collect a handout check as opposed to earning it.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • angel

      I don't understand why you would generalize an entire state as idiots or bigots. I am from Texas, and I'm not an idiot, nor am I a bigot. Many people in this state are good, honest, tolerant, and hard-working. They don't deserve to be insulted like that.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Sounds like you're the bigot

      January 4, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LEGALIZE IT

    what does OJ simpson have to do with this. White people just cant let that go, smh...the guy was proved innocent

    January 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Six

    It's a shame that DNA testing has taken so long for these cases. Better late than never I guess, but after 30 years, life will be a very hard adjustment.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cc

    there are some very disturbing human beings making comments here ..I hope this man is steady making up for lost time..and not dwelling on the time lost.. c

    January 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jack

    One of the reasons that state's right were trumped by federalism in the 50's was the abuses of southern states in regards to race.

    If read and understand the history from WW II and the 50's after WW II in regards to race, your prespectative will change. I am a conservative white male (63) and I am horrifed with the Tea Party rehotic.

    In population pockets in this country, both north, south, east and west I seen bigoty that I thought we had long ago resolved.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
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