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. Berger

    I can't believe the majority of the responses here, they have noting to do with Cornelius Dupree Jr.’s release and being exonerated. RACE has nothing to do with it. Political beliefs has nothing to do with it. Yet most of the replies say something totally ignorant and has nothing about setting the INNOCENT man free. People, GET A LIFE

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

      This is Texas...of course race has everything to do with this travesty. Texas is one of the most racist states we have in the union. Just look at the history of lynchings in this state. Racism does not die overnight...it takes generations to weed out. In short Texas is just getting started!!

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

      I agree!!!!Get a life and read a Bible!!!!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry

      Thank God for the innocence project! You would think that if a person can be convicted on the basis of line-ups that there should be a more precise method of identification and that it should used in each and every case where someone was violated in the manner that the victim was. Doing anything less is such an injustice and it would appear to me that prosecutors who want to see JUSTCE done would encourage the use of such technology to ensure that their “convictions” would stand the test of time. The technology existed 30 years ago and could have been used to introduce the element of doubt that prosecutors are so scared of because it negatively impacts their conviction rates! Even if it was not an “accepted” method, don’t you think it is just as precise, if not more so, than eyewitness identification!? I mean, thirty years ago was 1980 and I know this technology was being used to determine paternity and to determine organ matches in donor cases – life and death stuff! JUSTICE DENIED HURTS US ALL IN THE END.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. adam

    Disgraced California: not to interrupt with facts, but areas that have the highest levelps of illegal immigration have actually seen a trends towards less violent crime. As for that "liberalism is a mental disorder" comment, for God's sake come up with an original thought.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Juanita

    Thank heavens for DNA. But DNA has been used for a long time now. Shouldn't have taken this long to free this man. I just hope he can move forward in a positive way now. I don't blame him one bit for having some anger. Wouldn't be human if he didn't. In time hopefully that will go away. I wonder if the victim who id'd him is still alive and how she is feeling about all this.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • John R

      Juanita, you will probably already know this, but did you notice that about 60% of the comments to this story use the same form of stereotyping and presumptions that put Mr. Dupree away in the first place? Stereotyping is rampant, but people cannot see themselves doing it.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • mypitts2

      @JohnR: Very astute observation.

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

    Instead of fighting each other let's all fight for justice so what has happened to this man doesn't happen again...and when I say ALL I mean All races, religions, etc..

    January 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • SweetnessnBK

      I agree! For too long America has been a place of underlying racists and injustice! It is time for ALL of us to do SOMETHING about it besides pick fights and pull each other apart!! We cannot move forward with dignity as ONE country if WE keep seperating ourselves from one another!

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

    this kind things happen time and time again; however, it is always a Black man who 99% of the time victime of wrongly sent to Jail. how ignorant are those judges? i hope the judge who sent him to jail go hide under a rock .... shame!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • TH 3

      The judge, or the members of the jury? This isn't a case of one judge making a mistake....it's a case of an entire jury being mistaken. Sad, really....I wonder if there's more to the story?

      January 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ahunter

    I would like to clarify my statement, if the only evidence is identifying a total stranger then there should be a limit on the allowable sentence

    January 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jair Rodgofer

    It's incredible how something like that happens in the US. But after all these years of injustice committed against this innocent man, I wonder if there will be any payback, any kind of indemnity to this man who was wrongly accused of being a rapist. That's the least the State must do to ease the suffering and shame he's surely been through all these long years.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. truthinrock

    What a shame this didn't happen a couple years ago when TX might have had some money to compensate this poor man!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. me

    Why o why it took 30 years to clear him with DNA???????????? People who are responsible for such 'justice" should go work somewhere else!!!!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Give me a break...

    I can't believe everyone is trashing Texas because of this. I moved here when I was 5 because my father got a job with Nasa. It has been a great place to live, grow up and raise my children. No matter where you live this could have happened to you. Comments on here remind he of why AMERICA is so ignorant. Please don't blame our state. Do knock it until you try it. GIVE ME A BREAK PEOPLE...

    PS – I am SO GLAD that this guy is free and he derserves a LARGE SUM OF MONEY although no one can make up fpr the years he lost in prision..very sad. But don't knock our STATE because of the injustices. They happen ALL OVER AMERICA AND THE WORLD. Come on now YOU ALLLLLL!! YEEEHAWWW!! LOL

    January 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cbozey

    Do they really stash sperm for 30 yrs?

    January 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Drew

    News flash, folks. People are wrongly convicted in every other state also.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Whys

    One can't help but wonder where the real rapist is today. 😛

    January 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whys

      That's supposed to be a disgusted look, but the emoticon hardly looks it.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • cali

      He's probably one of Obama's main peps in the white house...

      January 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DENNIS

    THANK GOD FOR THE INNOCENCE PROJECT. HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE STILL LOCKED UP WHO SHOULD HAVE NEVER SERVED 1 DAY??? HOW CAN YOU REPAY A MAN 51YRS OLD AFTER TAKING 30YRS AWAY???

    January 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lovely

      That's just it..........you cant.

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

    Babylon will fall...all great empires come to an end

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