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. MASTRODAMUS

    YEEHAW!!! Another reason why I can't stand Texas.

    January 4, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • DallasGuy

      That's okay, Texas probably can't stand you either.

      This happens in every state in the union. Get a grip.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texan

      Right on for DallasGuy! I wouldn't live anywhere but Texas

      January 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    If I were this guy I'd be looking for those who incorrectly identified me... and make them disappear.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Five

      Those who new he was not guilty, and trust me their were many, have all had to live with themselves all these years. And that can't be an easy thing to live (assuming those people are not sociopath's). And they will never ever be happy knowing what they did to him. At least he will be. He can hold his head up high and live out the rest of his life with honor. Something those who incarcerated him can never do. And you can't put a price on self respect.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Mike, I think it was an honest mistake on the witnesses' part, but some rootin-tootin' frontier-justice evidence-fakin' on the prosecutors' part. Somebody IS likely to take it out on them, and probably in a completely legal and chillingly ruthless way like by suing their pants off and taking their house and savings and letting Dupree drive off in their car.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jaylee

    Consider him a rich man....sad he only had to sacrifice 30 years of his life. And it doesn't matter what any state has in place to protect it's prosecutors. You convict a man and take away 30 years of his life, you pay! There's not a judge in this country that would disagree. Ask any of those men who have been recently set free;)

    SN: This is why the Death Penalty is flawed. Makes you wonder how many innocent men have been "murdered" by our judicial system.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Damien

    more proof they eye witness is useless

    January 4, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. Regdude

    It's not just Texas, this is happening all over the US. Here's the scary part, if you're black all someone has to do is point their finger and you'll never see freedom again.
    You'll never hear of an innocent white that's imprisoned for years. The justice system isn't the only problem, we have, unfortunately, cops that are getting their badges for all the wrong reasons. These bad cops are off on their own personal agendas, so you can forget about protect and serve.
    Be in the wrong place at the wrong time... do you feel safe?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • fearlessdude

      General Rule: The police is here to protect the police. They willl also protect the politician for providing the budget. The police could not care less about the average guy.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Zee

      Quite a few people proven innocent have been white, but if it happens to a black person, then people have to make it about racism rather than miscarriage of justice – as in anytime anyone who isn't white suffers some injustice, it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that "stuff happens" is an equal opportunity force in everyone's life.........

      January 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. publius enigma

    There should be an investigation into how a court thought that he was proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt" when he was in fact innocent. Did the jury not understand the meaning of proof? Was there perjury? Did the judge disallow some relevant evidence?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • RH of WI

      This is a damn sad story. This man lost 30 years of his life, based on an "eye witness". He should get 10 million dollars for each year he was in prison. Maybe that would make the court system do their job the right way. And what about his lawyer at the time? Each and every person that had a hand in his trial should be fired and unable to work in the government or for the public ever again. Sad, sad story. Best wishes for a wonderful, healthy and happy life ~ hope he lives to be 150!

      January 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeithTexas

      McGee – if it is you? You should know that nothing has to make sense on the surface.

      You are right, our system is broken. Our judicial system long ago quit being about truth and justice. Now it is about the whims of prosecutors. If they don't get you it is just because they don't want you.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Stickemup

    @jack in n.y. Whats wrong with black people being racists if you ask me we aint racists enough

    January 4, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      you ,sir, are a moron. I stand in awe.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Buddy

    Texas.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. Tom

    Keith,
    In other countries, such as China, thety execute criminals that wouls simply be jailed here.
    I vsisited China often over the past 10 yrs and new of several cases where got officails were executed because of bribes... and they execute within days or weeks of conviction.. I personally who knew one guy who was executed this way after a bribe for real estate provileges

    January 4, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • fearlessdude

      We need this Chinese system here to take care of Dick Cheney and GWB and Wolfowitz all the other cheaters.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • christopher

      That's great Tom! Now try comparing us to civilized countries. When you compare America to china or north korea or iran then yes we look pretty good but we have the highest prison pop and the highest recidivism rates of any civilized country and we are supposed to be that beaming light of freedom for all the world to see. If we'd stop justifying it and deal with the problem we might actually make some progress.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Parot

      Wow, if we had that system here we could clean out most of our politicians and then we could truly begin to have a free country with people in government working for justice and fiscal accountability.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff

    I'd sure like to see the references for the claims people are making their posts. Anyone who has traveled outside the US will tell you from first hand experience that the numbers people are quoting here are pure BS. Why for example do we have more criminals in jail? Well for one reason we don't adhere to eye-for-eye, hand-for-hand justice nor do we execute people for simple transgressions such as robbery or speaking out against the government.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • christopher

      Jeff, You want stats then look them up. We aren't writing a dissertation here. If you don't want to believe the facts then don't. You'll be like the rest of the ignorant folks who ignore the problems that cost them billions of dollars each year. Here are some execution stats for you since you seem to think other countries just kill all their criminals. China executes more than any other nation. They executed over 4,000 people in 2009. Even if they didn't execute a single on and chose to imprison them instead that still wouldn't even come close to touching the number of American prisoners so NO. We don't have such a high prison pop because other countries just execute more folks for lesser crimes than murder. Also, America is #4 in the world in executions and #1 in executions in the civilized world unless you consider china civilized so we aren't exactly merciful in that regard in the first place. Before you imply that others are making up their own facts you should check your own.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. phil

    The answer is simple: after the court has heard the case, the jury and the judge retire to another room. The judge gives the jury directions, and if these directions aren't followed, a mistrial is declared. (of course this does not apply to less important cases, but if the judge is crooked and one of his cronies is on trial or if the outcome would expose our corrupt legal system/government too much, it does.) Notice that in other free countries everyone in the courtroom is placed under oath...including the judge and the attorneys. Here, YOU are the only one not allowed to lie in a courtroom.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. sameeker

    It is obvious that the police coached and badgered the witnesses. They should have to go do double the time he had to.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      It's obvious they badgered the witnesses? How did you come to that conclusion?

      January 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      The male "eyewitness" was unable to pick him out in a lineup, however, when the trial rolled around, he had no problem identifying him. Might not be badgering, but it's certainly leading.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Auntie Warhol

    Unfortunately, since we are a Christian nation that doesn't believe in evolution, we also don't believe in the so-called evidence of evolution (DNA). Back to the slammer! Nice try, though, atheist scientists.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. brian

    Now if only Gov. Rick Perry and Texas could do something about Cameron Todd Willingham, the innocent man that the State of Texas wrongfully executed. It is a crime that this man served 30 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, but at least he is still alive after his wrongful conviction.

    Consider this, we are just now entering an age where we have more certainty of many crimes if DNA evidence is left behind and overturning convictions from an age before this science-based justice. Think of how many people who have spent a lifetime in prison that we do not know about. Think of those we have most certainly executed for a crime they were innocent of perpetrating. We may not know the number of people this has happened to, but it most certainly is a lot of people.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  15. PAPilot

    I can't believe the State has stolen this man's life from him. Overzealous prosecutors are to blame. They know the people they are putting away are innocent.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
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