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. ted

    @Racism Still Alive.... Black & Brown – Together...You act as though only white people discriminate. ALL races discriminate. Blacks don't get a free pass on that one.

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

    I just hope this man cn find the will within him to move on and live a decent life because of the injustice that was done to him by the court. It will take a lot frm someone who was incarcerated innocently for 30 yrs to just forget about it and move on. May god bless him, and I hope he get compensated somehow.

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

      every night i pray for everyone even the bucket head 30 years is a long time not feel some kind of hatred. let pray he forgives if not i totally understand

      January 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • rev. gregg alan smith - dallas, texas

      Thank you! Probably the most hopeful comment I've seen here on the subject. Everyone, please, let's just pray for this guy, his family, the families of the victims, and the imperfect justice system that is, for good or ill, all we have. Let's remember that it is for all of us to work to not just recognize injustice (intended or not), but to work within our individual spheres of influence to peacefully encourage our leaders to take these issues seriously so that the horror this man went through for 30 years won't be repeated.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John D Lamb

    Comments please.

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

    Wow... even Rip Van Winkle only lost 20 years. He must feel like he's on another planet. I know I do when I think of everything that's changed in the last 30 years. God bless him, I hope he has a good support system and can find some peace and fulfillment in his life.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. a real american

    Justice in America is a disgusting joke.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • R.E.

      true

      January 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • BHF2350

      I imagaine there are people who are incarcerated in North Korea, Iran, and other countries who would give anything to be under the justice system in America. In America we have freedom of speech and a person is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Yes, mistakes are made, bad mistakes, but no justice system is perfect. What is a D.A. and Judge to do when they have eye-witness testimony pointing to someone as the person who did the crime? With DNA less mistakes are being made than were made 30 plus years ago. Yes, there are D.A.s and others in the justice system who are not good people, but for every one of them, there are good people who diligently do their job to the best of their ability. Have you ever made a mistake?? Did it cause harm to another? Did you find out later you were mistaken?? Most people have something in their background they wish had never happened.

      January 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      You should leave and go to a country where justice is more fairly meted out...

      January 4, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Justin

    I'm not sure why everyone feels the need to attack others on here. The truth is that, yes, Texas has been shown to be a bit trigger-happy when it comes to convicting minorities on REALLY flimsy evidence, if any evidence exists at all. It shows the state to be a bit behind the rest of the country in overcoming stereotypical assumptions that lead to wrongful minority convictions. That said, the fact that these convictions ARE being overturned is indicative of a system that is in the process of changing. Give credit where credit is due.
    I'd be willing to bet you that if you asked these wrongfully convicted men (all of the prisoners are men) if they would rather have the time or the millions of dollars some low-life attorney is going to take 50% of, they would rather the time, or at the very least the opportunity to put a horrible experience behind them. These men are remarkably without inordinate bitterness. How about those who feel it necessary to make personal attacks (on both sides of the fence) follow their example, huh?

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

    Racism is alive everywhere. s*** happens.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. R.E.

    its rediculous how much disfunctional comments are on here. if your brain cells aren't workin, then stay off the computer!
    -secondlyy, i beleive it IS a racial situation. how many caucasian men have u seen falsely imprisoned for 30 years? you know darn well dey wuld get a DNA test..on the first day!! and considering what he was acussed for?? DUH! im at least 20 years younger than most of you and have waaay more sense.SERIOUSLYY, ARE OUR MINDS STILL WORKIN IN PLANTATIONN TIMES AND ITS 2011?? BANISH RACISM. ITS DUMB AND MAKES NO SENSE. I WULD THINK THE HUMAN RACE SHOULD BE LESS BARBARIC THESE DAYS...UGHH.
    COME ON NOWW!

    January 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Please learn to spell (and write) or stay off the computer....

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

      "-secondlyy, i beleive it IS a racial situation. how many caucasian men have u seen falsely imprisoned for 30 years? you know darn well dey wuld get a DNA test..on the first day!! and considering what he was acussed for?? DUH!"

      How many Caucasians have been falsely imprisoned for 30 years? Who knows? But to suggest that they would have DNA tested whites 30 years ago but would have refused to do the same for blacks is simply moronic. THE TECHNOLOGY TO DO DNA TESTING IN CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS WASN'T AVAILABLE 30 YEARS AGO! And even though it was theoretically available by the mid 1980s, it wasn't practical for wide scale use until much later.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. caliconor

    There's more to this story. The District Attorney that convicted this poor man goes by the name of HENRY WADE. He was the D.A. that convicted Jack Ruby and was running the D.A.'s office during the JFK assassination. He was a legend in the eyes of prosecutors around the country because he NEVER lost a case and ALWAYS got a conviction...you know why? Because he wasn't following laws himself; rules of court. In every single one of these cases he prosecuted where he locked the 20+ innocent men up, he didn't disclose appropriate evidence to the defense attorneys that represented these men.

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

      Wow. Good post. He did manage to lose the Roe v Wade case though...

      January 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • kim

      hmmm.....true

      January 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mo

    This is just sad!

    I read some of the comments posted and the racism is even sadder. The time it takes to hate someone for any reason is time taken away from loving yourself...remember that the next time you say racist remarks!

    Have lost faith in America and its justice system years ago and I'm only 28. This country is full of criminals either hiding behind fancy suits and oak desks in big buildings or hiding behind their Apple's and Mac's...no matter what race is he...he is free after 30yrs of wrongful imprisonment..if you don't feel saddness for this situation..you need help!

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

      Why would you lose faith in America because a small percentage of people can't or don't get it right? There are, by far, a greater majority who do. The greater majority are not racists, bigots, dishonest or 'out to get every person of color'. Making generalizations like this, and like the buffoons on here who are condemning an entire State because of this story, only contributes to the problem. If you aren't part of the solution you are part of the problem.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. don savant

    This is one of many cases that will have this out come. DNA evidence is the worst enemy of racist judiciary officials. They will suffer worst times while they are rotting in hell.

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

    i have a couple of questions. is his record clean because on applications there is a section that says have you ever been convicted of a felony. what do he say? i was found guilty did 31 years but guess what I'm they lied. THE STATE OF TEXAS NEEDS TO GURANTEE HIM EMPLOYMENT with out even filling out an application. what is he going to do? what kind of working experience he has. What needs to happen is he needs an attorney from outside the state Texas that don't care who toes they step on . THEY NEEDS TO PAY

    January 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nate C

      Guarantee him employment? F–K that, Texas needs to make this guy a millionaire. If he ever has to work a day for the rest of his life, it's a travesty.

      January 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dizzyd

    Re: those who say 'at least he couldn't commit other crimes, who cares if he's innocent?' – you people truly scare me. What if it was you? Or someone you love? Oh well, no big deal? As for fiscal cons, probably in church thanking god it's not them.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. NativeHonor

    I think the fair thing to do is find out how much he was making annually before he was incarcerated, allow for inflation, multiply times 30 years, and that should be paid to him in a lump sum.

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

      The state will counter that by charging him for the 30 years of food and 'rent'.

      January 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. un-educated colored boy

    What happened to Mr.Dupree was trajic.It had less to do with the color of his skin or corrupt government, than the fact that he was poor. Hasn't anyone noticed that this is the flaw of our legal system? The wealthy have vast resources to hire the best and mount the most effective defense. Ever hear of a wrongly convicted wealthy individual? You think OJ would have been declared innocent if he was not able to hire Mr.Barry Schect(founder innocent project)? The sad reality of the criminal or civil justice system is that justice only goes to those who can afford it. We should take solice in the fact that compared with the rest of the world we have the most fair and just legal system. Perhaps, we should limit the prosecutions access to tax payer resources relative too the the defendant? America is a FREE Country but it is not a FREE Show.

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