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. Dumb B****

    The lady whom picked from the line should be sent for prison for 30 yrs. She should get sued.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamesgang

      Kinda want to be positive when picking from the lineup?

      January 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • JRR

      Well she said they all look the same!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • mypitts2

      It's not her fault. It's the fault of prosecutors who pretend that eyewitness testimony is anything other than very unreliable at best, when not backed up by other evidence.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. donna

    i reeeeaaaalllly hope he gets reimbursed for his time and sues the heck out of the system....He should get a million dollars

    January 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • mypitts2

      2.5 million total.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mommy

    For the record, I lived in texas .. I am a person of color.. Yes I got pulled over, no cause, ect. But, the people of the Dallas/Ft Worth area and SFA univ areas were Awesome. For every bad person... There is good. The good people can't be silent, while the bad ones are in control.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mark

    well thats good they locked him up since iam sure he would've just commited more raping and robbing right ??

    January 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. GOTTHUMBS

    And now.....the next question is....how much is this going to cost texas. Very sad story and I'm wondering where the two victims fit in here?....wrongly accusing this man changed his life forever. Are they to be held accountable?

    January 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. LEGALIZE IT

    @SHAUN SHUT UP

    January 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bolaji09

    Just spare a thought for the last moments of the life of the innocent condemned poor man. The selective justice of America.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. susan

    who gives his life back? just for a mistake thats not right.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. wiki

    To all who are saying that prison population are not mostly "minority". Please check the statistics. From wikipedia you can easily get the following, which explains why most "innocently accused" come from "minority"

    The racial composition of the US prison and jail population as of 2008 was 60.21% (African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, 13.44% White American (non-Hispanic) , and 6.06% Other

    January 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • cali

      2008 haha welcome to 2011.....

      January 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      To: eleanor fitzgerald: "i have never been to Texas. I wonder if the stars at night are still big and bright!"

      Yes, they are! The stars in the Texas sky are absolutely brilliant!

      January 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Honkster

    My President is black...my lambo is blue...and i be hot da*m if I my rims aint too!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • cali

      The president isn't black....1/2 caucasion, 7/16th Arab and a mere 1/16 black. His dad is considered Arab African.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • @cali

      im tired of being told what we are, my guess is your white, since white people love to categorize black people into different ethnicities when it favors their narrative point of view...example during reconstruction to about 1970 if u looked black and had even a mere drop of black blood in you, by white cultural racial definition you were black...

      January 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mypitts2

      @cali: Somebody should tell the president about your breakdown of what he is. He marked "black/African-American" on his census form. I'm willing to go with however a person defines himself or herself. It's their life. He said he was certainly treated as black when he tried to hail a cab back in the day.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walken1

      @cali
      Nigeria comprises hundreds of ethinc groups and the vast majority are not Arab. Stop repeating what you hear from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. adam

    This is EXACTLY why I will never support the death penalty. You can't free someone from a grave.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • SweetnessnBK

      I fully understand your point. And as previous supporter of the death penelty I am now changing my view. You are absolutely right sir... You cant free anyone from the Grave!!! Salute to you sir!!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lovely

      OMG!!!!! Very well said.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. andrew

    The thing that sucks the most about this, is the fact that his appeals were repeatedly denied. He was lucky in getting someone to take his case, just think of all the people that could be in prison, and innocent, and no one believes them or gives them a chance to bring up DNA evidence again. One of my cousins is serving a life sentence, that has always maintained that he is innocent.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ahunter

    Maybe if the sentences were not so severe for crimes that do not involve murder, then if one found innocent later that although a travesty it is not beyond repair

    January 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Marvin Tillman

    This is very frightening and plus sad because when you look back at all of the people put to death on Texas record setting executions. You just know that many of them were INNOCENT!! May GOD bless their souls...

    January 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lovely

      I think the people you should be praying for are the ones who put the innocent ones to death and probably knew it. I wouldn't want that on my head.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. @PossibleRedneck

    All rednecks are racist inbred hillbillies, but not all racists are inbred redneck hillbillies. Another thing rednecks do: claim nascar is a sport! lol that would make the drivers athletes! only a redneck would call someone sitting down during their 4porting event" a sport. retards. have fun in texas, idiots.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miggers

      4sport??? What the heck is that?? English is second language to Africans, I guess.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Student22

      I absolutely never agreed to the death penalty. It is wrong to take a person's life away, no matter how you look at it. Charge the person, but why sentence them to death? It won't bring back the person you may have lost. It may make you feel better, but it's a short happiness. Especially, if they were wrongly accused, how would you feel?

      January 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
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