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. LibraLee

    I meant "coached" not "coaxed"

    January 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeman

      Its a glimpse at the system at work. even though we have better testing methods to prove dna innocents. However the threat of prison being a growth industry is one of the biggest threats to our freedoms today. Prison is business and it wants to grow and expand its business. Prison business model is same as a hotel trying to fill up beds. Companies that make money of the prison economy want to see growth. growth equal people in jail. More and more victimless crimes are prosecuted and victimless crime people are jailed. And more then any communist or any time in our history then before.

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

      Freeman: While I will not say you are right or wrong, there are also more people in the world than ever before, better methods for catching people than everbefore, and more means for killing people than everbefore. With that in mind, it is enevetable that the prisons will continue to grow as the population grows and the methods improve.

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

      Mavent: You don't know the case, so don't say they freed him only because of the DNA. Before you write something do a little research about it so you don't look stupid.

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

      What was his RAP before this arrest? Anybody....

      January 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike collins

      Except, the department of corrections (or privatized correction) does not investigate nor does it prosecute crime, thus having no influence in "filling up beds".

      so your "business model" is severely flawed.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike collins

      In addition; government does not profit from incarcerated citizens. Government prefers you to be free...you know, so you can work and pay taxes like a good little drone.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • trae

      I agree pedro-

      January 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      TonyGa, whatever his record was before he was arrested, tried and convicted for this crime is absolutely irrelevant. If he had a prior record, some of dimwits around here would consider that a justification for the lost 30 years.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonee

      There actually have been cases where judges were bribed or influenced by prison companies into jailing more convicts. Cases that should have resulted in probation, etc. Also, the U.S. has a greater percentage of its citizens imprisoned than any other country. Actually, it's a greater pecentage than any nation in history. So, something is wrong.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan N

      Sure, the people who own/profit from the prisons can't directly fill more beds, but i'm sure they have ways to influence the people who can. This is what freeman was referring to. People who own the prisons are buddy-buddy with judges, captains, etc, and all of a sudden people are going to jail for years for what should be minor offenses. Money has that affect.
      There are certain industries that shouldn't be run for profit.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pablo

      @ mike collins: actually the prison system gets more money for having more inmates, and that doesn't mean the money goes to building a new prison. The federal government of the USA doesn't care about profits, otherwise they would stop spending your tax dollars. They have a hidden agenda of making all it's bottom citizens (those not in power) into slaves, mostly of debt. I agree with the comment that more people are incarcerated for petty crimes, for which in other countries you would get a fine or some probation, not jail time.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • DRE

      funny how racism is not mentioned once
      mistaken identification is the cause of this
      of course
      police & prisons are systemically biased towards nonwhites
      aka
      racist

      January 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diana

      This is a crime ina nad of iteself because the victim is not only the couple whom were harmed but also this man (and the other guy who was prosecuted). I understand that progress is being made but so much needs to change within the criminal justice system that it could take forever if someone does not just 'do it'. Prison sentences are too long for some and far too short for others (ie: 2 years for a pedophile who violates 100 children versus 40 for a guy who sells drugs). It is time to put thse innocent victims into the history books (they deserve that in additon to financial compensation for years lost where they would have earned money, gotten college degrees, had children, etc), and to make progress. Why can't progress begin today with prison sentences, much as progress has begun thanks to this innocence project. It is nice to see this project doing so much good for people. They too will be the forerunners future generations read about when they look at what idiots we were in hindsight (even in 1979 we knew witness ID was questionable). It is like all those who sacrificed their lives in the middle ages, etc to others who could not think rationally or logically. Please use this as a reason to reform the entire justice system (and by the way to figure out why Black Americans are twice as likely to be in prison while their pop only makes up 12.8% or Native Americans, 6.8% pop density), are 7x more likely to be incarcerated. As a professional who knows many in the dept of justice, I am all about laws and separating negative elements from society. However, it is a system as unjust as stoning or hanging when it comes down to it since it is not up to par with what we are capable of doing.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vince

      The Police State of Texas owes this man.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Freeman, that was by the far most intelligent answer to our system i've ever heard.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph Pellecchia

      Let me.... ah.... Texas???

      January 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • kenneth

      TEXAS IS ALL RACIST AND THEY PROFILE LIKE NOOTHER. STUPID F...CK TARD

      January 4, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • carol pearson

      its all about the prosector closing his/her case. thats it. nothing else matters. been there. may god hold them accountable for their misdeeds.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • MinorityMike

      Blacks are a product of the hip-hop society that they grow up in. 1 out of 5 males are in jail. Think about that. It is glamorized to sag ur pants and carry a gun and not work. Then they can blame everyone else for their economic issues. LOL gotta love um. 4th generation welfare reciptiants with 200 dollar sneakers. I'm not saying all, but a large amount of them need to take responsibility and stop asking for weath distrabution when they dont contribute.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      @Mike collins
      "mike collins - In addition; government does not profit from incarcerated citizens. Government prefers you to be free...you know, so you can work and pay taxes like a good little drone."
      You're correct... the government doesn't profit. But! The people in power within said government might, have, and will profit from sending people to prison. Here are a couple links for you to consider:

      These are 2 Judges taking kickbacks to send *children* to prisons.
      Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/us/13judge.html
      2 Ex-Judges May Be Tried In Sentencing Of Juveniles - http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9500E6DA1330F936A1575BC0A96F9C8B63&ref=markaciavarella

      January 4, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Deter

    What bothers me is why there are so many crooked politicians still free walking the streets and continuing to defend their illegal actions with BS and people actually believe them. I think we need to play a few rounds of incarcerate the congress and senate and then see what happens.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      I agree with you. Charley Rangel doesnt pay taxes on income for 17 years and get what amounts to a reprimand. Wesley Snipes doesnt pay for three years and goes to prison. Theres justice for ya. We really need more control over the politians, not the other way around as they want it.

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

      That is correct! There are so many Gansgters in the USA Government who walk freely aeound!

      January 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • drmldy6669

      I agree, we should do a cleaning house of our politicians and movie stars that haven't paid their tax's. Put them in jail, seize their assets and help reduce our National Debt.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chairmanbuzz

      I agree about Senator Foley, especially. That paedophile is roaming free only doing alcohol rehab as punishment. This man deserves, as a minimum, minimum wages for 65,720 hours, based on a 40 hr. work week. His room, board, clothing, etc. is free due to the state's screwup. That's a start...

      January 4, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kacy

    I hope this man sues his flipping pants off, poor guy.
    Sounds like some of you have had bad experiences in Texas. So have I. But Texans as a whole are not all racist, ignorant and redneck. Geez, quit acting like children, explore your country or read a book.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • radicalrad

      yeah every in texas isn't racist now. but thirty years ago was hell for anybody in texas that african american.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • R.E.

      FINALLY ! SOMEBODY WITH SOME SENSE. WELL SAID.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • BeenThereDoneThatInTexas

      Of course not every person who has had the misfortune to live in Texas is a witless hick, but there sure are quite a few who believe themselves some other than a witless hick and yet have no problem with one of the most backward penal systems in the western world. Living there did give me a greater insight into the mindset of 19th century Americans.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • GL

      Certainly not all Texans are racist. That said, there does seem to be a higher proportion of bigoted, self righteous people in Texas compared to other states. There is some reason that they have the highest number of incarcerated people per capita and of that population they have a disproportionate number of people who are of color. That is not coincidence. It is certainly not a place that I or anyone I know would like to live. Their obsession and delight in having the highest numbers of executions is also reflective of neanderthal values as well.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Storni

      Yeah, hope he gets millions from the court. If he would have been another color in 79 he may not have been convicted or his sentence would have been lower. This man should get a few million, since he was taken away a large portion of his life and just the anger of having lost all that time for nothing deserves about 1/2 million to 1 million for every year he served.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*Joe

      Sue the skum bag attorney that convicted and presented the bull shot evidence. Make hi
      serve the remaining sentence and with his grossly over paid fees pay back to tax layers for the bs trial.

      January 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Benjamin

    I'm not even thirty years old yet. I can't imagine what it would be like to sit in prison for thirty years because of a crime I didn't commit. I find it hard to believe it's a 'coincidence' that he happens to be black and happened to be charged and imprisoned in Texas. I lost almost all of what little faith I have left in the justice system.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat B.

      Saying it was because he was black was the reason for his incarceration is B.S. He was fingered, obviously wrongly, in a lineup. Obviously, whomever actually commited the crime was black. I guess if it was a white man, he wouldn't be in this mess. He should be mad at his people that did it!!!

      January 4, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zaphod

      Keep in mind that while racism undoubtedly played a part in the tragedy of this man being wrongfully imprisoned, it took diligence and hard work of good people in Texas to finally exonerate him.

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

      totally. black and in prison? Thats like pretty much has to be an innocent.

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

      @Pat B....How the hell do you know the perpetrator was black? Because she said so. Did you read that her companion/friend who was with her picked a different guy from this unfortunate guy? Have you heard about Susan Smith?
      Don't let your ideology cloud your commonsense.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • sara

      you make an interesting point. I do believe that he was wrongly incarcerated for being a different race then the accusers. but unlike you, I don't believe it's because the accusers were racists. I believe it's simply due to the phenomena of mis identification across races. There is ample scientific evidence that proves that identification of a different race is difficult. ABC News did a show on this a few months back and also did an blind fold experiment to test this hypothesis. In a large percent of the cases, there was mis identification across races. which just proves the point that not all witnesses are equal...

      January 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Zaphod: Nobody from Texas had anything to do with freeing this guy. The Texas Justice Department actually worked overtime in trying to block the use of DNA evidence to exonerate him (and any other cases). The DAs like to argue "you can't introduce new evidence, we already had a trial". The DAs are not interested in justice or the truth, only their "win" percentage. Texas would rather execute an innocent man than admit they made a mistake and have to take a good, long look at their broken (in)justice system.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. YadaYada1

    Texas has murdered at least one innocent person

    January 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Are you referring to Todd Willingham?

      January 4, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Craig

    Ahhh, Texas, Mexico. What a nice place, NOT!

    January 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Craig...well said...hopefully this means you will never be coming to Texas.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Antlers

      Yep you're right Craig. Texas probably isn't as nice as your double wide in Arkansas.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      You are so right...DO NOT EVER GO THERE!

      January 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Al

    II am always glad to see an innocent person cleared. I would love to ask the compassinate Barry Scheck how it feels to help get a very obviously guilty double murderer off without regard for the victims or their families. Of course its just my opinion that the suspect, OJ Simpson is guilty.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • OPINIONATED

      What the hell does this article have to do with OJ? Go put that bull-ish on a blog about OJ.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. tt

    For all you people who are so sure that there has been no compensation:

    I don't know specifics of this case, but I did read a few years ago that there is pretty much always compensation for these people. It's not multi-millions like some people here are suggesting, but accepting it would naturally involve releasing all parties from further liability. And by the way, they get the money fast, instead of going through years of litigation to sue everybody in sight, only to find out that governments and government officials doing their jobs are typically immune from prosecution unless there was a clear intent to "act badly".

    So let's not all climb on the victimology band wagon. This guy was victimized, not you. He will get something for that, probably enough to get himself launched back into society if he doesn't blow it. The system is not 100% bad, only partly bad.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • fizzlerz

      You gotta be joking right? There is no amount of compensation to equal loss of 30 years of your life. There's nothing no one can do to right this wrong.

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

      So, tt, what is fair compensation for Mr. Dupree? Tell us. I want to read what you type.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • NOchanges

      WoW. If he doesn't blow it? WTH you talking about?. This man served 30 years in prison because of racist witnesses and a biast corrupt legal system and you mention that he may be compensated with enough money to adjust to society -IF he doesn't blow it? Cmon you sound like someone from that 70's racist legal system. HE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO BLOW WHATEVER AMOUNT THEY GIVE HIM, HE SERVED 30 YEARS FOR A CRIME HE DIDN'T COMMIT. Now you want to go play judge on how he spends his compensation?

      It goes to show you, even with the strides we have made in racism over the years, it still runs rampant today.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • dcfan

      tt, are you insane?! No amount of money will ever replace what the state of texas robbed this man of. To suggest that a million dollars(or less!) is sufficient is uncompassionate and insensitive! How bout you try on 30 years in prison and get back to us! Moron.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JoeT

    At least this guy has an alibi for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. christopher

    If I spent 30 years in the slammer for something I didn't do and then didn't get compensated then I'd show those who put me there exactly what kind of crime lands a person in jail that long to begin with. If I have to do the time. I'm gonna do the crime.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      You nailed it. At this point, our society owes him at least one free murder. Anyone he wants in Texas. He has already paid for it.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JoeT

    At least the DA from 1979 can feel satisfied about having an unearned "win" for his team.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jesse dez

    SHAME TO THE PROSCUTER WHO PUT HIM IN JAIL FOR THISTY ONE YEARS !

    January 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • LATIN LOVER

      THIRTY!

      January 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    For all you death penalty supporters, now what do you have to say? It has been proven that the death penalty is applied more to minorities than to whites. How many of these people who have been executed were actually innocent?

    America is still a barbaric country. We still practice the death penalty, which is government homicide.

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

      Maybe you should move to another country...

      January 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Drew

    Am I the only one who finds it very scary that Texas leads the nation in both executions and overturned guilty verdicts by DNA evidence? It just seems like the paths would be too likely to cross eventually given the odds.

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

      Yeah, it sounds like Texas is getting it right. More convictions, but also more overturned on DNA evidence. Would you prefer it was the opposite? At least they are looking at the cases where DNA is available to see what can be proven beyond doubt, and without faulty 'eyewitness' testimony.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • PeacefulHeartTN

      @Drew – Numbers may be deceptive: Is TX leading the pack for overturned convictions because they have more than other states, or because they are actively working at uncovering them? The article notes that the Dallas County District Attorney General's office has created a unit that "specifically looks at claims of innocence" AND that Dallas retains evidence for 30+ years.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • howe ludachrist

      baltimore is the opposite. you can kill someone and be back on the streets in five years. thats if they dont screw up the case. thats why no one fears getting a charge for shooting someone in bodymore murderland

      January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      TOO SCARY!! DON'T EVER GO TO TEXAS!

      January 4, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. com pensate

    I have an idea......the judge and prosecutor....get their youngest child and lock them away for 30 yrs.......now its even.

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

      Exactly. Perhaps not just, but really quite fair.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pablo

      good idea I wouldn't have thought of that, but to expand you should include the 2 people that wrongfully said that it was him

      January 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tonys

      Lock the judge's kids for the 30 years. U guys are sick humans.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
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