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. Maryland, USA

    Let us hope that this is one record that will never be broken.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Christopher

    Cases like this are the reason why I am totally against the death penalty. There is no way to fix an execution of an innocent person after the fact, and I TRULY believe that no other person nor SOCIETY has the right to say to another person "You are worthless, I am going to kill you!" for any reason, save if they are trying to kill you or someone else at that very moment and it is your last choice to stop that.
    When we do that, we are treading down the road to Nazi Germany, to be blunt.

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

    Why the heck is some Texan writing about healthcare to comment on a criminal exoneration story? Silly Texans.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Yeah, because again, Texans are the only ones on here doing this.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Philadelphia cream cheese

    That is horrible. Imagine being in jail for that long, and being released with no compensation. I'm sorry but I would go on a rampage or those that put me there. It's just unforgivable.

    it's abyssmal.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mr Jingle

    To Texan Girl who said ""I'm curious as to what this mans previous criminal history consisted of?"

    Just by the statement, you show your ignorance and racist tendencies. He didn't do this crime, but he must of done something else. It's people like you who keep the racial wheels in this nation turning. I bet you would have a heart attack if the man's background was clean before this injustice. That wouldn't sit well with you, would it? Go to hell.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob

    The only thing the state did in this case deprive this guy of the 'prime' of his criminal career. He hung out with a rapist & a previous rap sheet.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Syncretic

      I find no mention of "prior" (that is, ANY REAL) criminality on Dupree's part. Search results show only people like Bob here speculating.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Faye

    Ok, some of these comment smell of IGNORANCE but really, Prejudice is alive and well and they try to hide it but it is still prevalant in todays society, Yes, it was very unfortunate what happened and yes it can happen to anyone of us but think people, this madness is what makes the world go round, we all have a destiny to fulfill and for Texas, California and please don't leave out Virginia this is all they know, Thank God the next generation will have a better handle on things we can Pray that they do because so far WE are not letting go and letting God., Hateration is not cool, let it go and for Mr. Cornelius Dupree Jr I wish you health,love,Blessings and most of all Peace!!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. boocat

    Figures it's Texas. I'm surprised they didn't pull the plug on this guy. The looove to execute people in that state.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Gotta kill someone for that to happen, moron!

      January 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Yessss...Texas is scary...stay away!!

      January 5, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. pazi

    30 years... I can't even beging to imagine...

    January 4, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. NewinJustice

    I am currently in grad school for Forensic Psychology. I can assure you that one of the first class topics pertains to false identifications and the difficulty in accurately identifying people of other races. Unfortunately, it happens more than you would think.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    This guy deserves a huge some of cash from the state of Texas, and the freakin keys to the state house.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. idecomp

    It's a shame that this is NOT an isolated incident, and that it occurs pretty regularly in the justice system. They feel that it's worth it to send and innocent man to prison than to take the chance of releasing a guilty man. The shotgun effect.

    I hope he sues... 100K per year per incarceration. It's NOT enought for what he lived through.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. expat5

    Put the cops who arrested him in there for thirty years....

    January 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Why would you send the cops who arrested him to prison? They only arrested the person they were told to arrest. They didn't testify against him or convict him or decide his sentence. If there's blame it should go to the person who said, without a doubt, that he was the person who did it. Of course, the prosecutor isn't blameless either.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. real deal

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say the real perp probably was black, I dont think they would have messed up the ID that bad. So its not racist. No I'm not black but my father in law is.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ELAC

    GOTTHUMBS, SHUT UP!

    January 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
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