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. kenhp1

    It always amazes me when someone is convicted of a crime on the allegation of one person. The male victim did not pick him out of the pics. Any conviction based on one's word should be very suspect.
    I do wonder how many people were killed by the real perpetrator while this guy sat in prison for a crime he did not commit. The justice system has an obligation to review these cases and correct any mistakes or great doubt about the innocence of anyone that could be innocent.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ERB

    This posting speaks for itself...the girl from Texas has limited edumacation!!! Toopid.

    texan girl

    Wow he if finally free but its so sad that he spent all that time in prison for something he never did. just imagine all those innocent prisoners' that are encarcerated no wonder we have a high percentage of prisoners there must be innocent people making the percentage so high

    January 4, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • TH 3

      See, it's generalizations like this that ended up getting this man jailed for so long....The grammar of one Texan does not represent an entire state. Just saying....

      January 4, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Legalize it

    If youve never smoked marijuana please do so for your new year resolution...it will change your delusional views and we can be a better country...its illegal only because it frees minds...takes away from the tobacco industry and the everyday man can cultivated it themselve. If youve never smoked it (good stuff) for longer than a month, dont knock it. Its healthier than McDonalds. If your worry about your lungs, just vaporize baby!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff Paulson

    Just curious ... they write about the number of convictions overturned ... I wonder how many of these types of reviews and DNA tests actually re-affirm the original conviction? Or at least the ratio of cases reviewed vs cases overturned. It does not seem logical that all the cases examined are overturned ...

    January 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lovely

      Good question, I agree.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. itllgetbetter

    looks guilty to me! and i am black! LMFAO!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Black man

      And you just look stupid. No wait, you are stupid, smh...

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

      Lol

      January 4, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gizel

    Most of the falsely imprisoned people are either black or hispanic, convicted by all white jurys.....just saying....just pointing out the reality!!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      If the all white jury put him jail, then the fault can be put partly on his defense. They help choose the jury! It also registered voters that are put in the jury pool. I guess only the white registered voters where called that day?

      January 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Legalize it

    If youve never smoked marijuana please do so for your new year resolution...it will change your delusional views and we can be a better country...its illegal only because it frees minds...takes away from the tobacco industry and the everyday man can cultivated it themselve. If youve never smoked it (good stuff) for longer than a month, dont knock it. Its healthier than McDonalds. If your worry about your lungs, just vaporize baby!!!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ashlboulder

    It would be so hard not to be angry, 30 years lost! But at least he is out, I wish him peace and I hope he has a very fulfilling life outside the prison walls!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chinaman

    this guy deserves 5 million dollars and a new white woman every month for this atrocity

    January 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SKSK

    Anyone remember a District Attorney down in Texas by the name of Becket? Back in the 80's he would set up raids on the projects...arresting all kinds of innocent people. It was all political and racially motivated. Don't forget...anyone with a felony loses thier right to vote. Sounds like this poor guy got the royal Texas treatment as well.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • ooooh

      There was a movie about that called American Violet. Everyone should watch that

      January 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • SweetnessnBK

      That movie American Violet is a great piece of history to watch!!! It is so sad that we as Americans cant move forward as one. No wonder other countries dont like us!!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Art In Chicago

    I wonder how many have been executed in Texas that were wrongly convicted. Cases that have mandatory 20+ year sentences or death penalty eligible should be automatically reviewed.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tony

    Texas owes him big time $$$$$$$$$$

    January 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joey

    Great job for free this man...

    January 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joey

    Great job for free this man

    January 4, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jorge washinsen

    They did not say if the DNA evidence that cleared him has been put in the national system.Someone,if still alive and out there, probably has left a trail somewhere.Usually they don't stop at one crime.

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