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. Robert

    This shows how lax the criminal justice system can be at times. Texas should be embarrassed at themselves and Mr Dupree should be lookin at sueing somebody and trying to recover all these years of lost wages and life back.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Yeah, because Texas is the only state incarcerating the wrong people.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. txlydia

    People who live in "small" states don't really understand the size of Texas. The reason Texas convicts more, has more on death row and then also releases more when found not guilty....is the fact that Texas has a whole lot more people which live there. Then you have to add in the people who commit crimes in our state that don't live here. Texas would be alot better off if we did secede. We are the ONLY state which could. Would be kinda funny....the same people trashing Texas on here would be begging for our help then. Please....we need your gas/fuel resourses & refining (all states)....please we need more electricty (some states) ,,,,,etc. You really wouldn't like to pay the costs. Please Texas helps any & every state that gets hit with a major blow. Wouldn't you like to say that about your state? LOL Everyone makes mistakes....so no state is perfect.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • R.E.

      do not make excuses and try to go off topic. this situation should focus on the man! forget the issue that he happened to be in texas.focus on the real issue.don't beat around the bush.i personally have resided in texas. have nothing against it. however, i feel it is insulting for this conversation to drift off into somethingg irrelevant.

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

      Lydia, PLEASE tell me you're joking! First of all, Texas is NOT the most populous state, California is (by about 12 million according to the 2005 census estimates). Second, crimes committed by those who live in other states affect your ability carry out justice? Get real. If you read my post before, I'm by no means Texas-bashing, but the reality of the situation in Texas must be acknowledged. Racism (or classism) has played a major part in wrongly convicting 41 innocent men (to date). Now, I believe that Texas is making progress but progress does not entirely make amends for the wrongs committed by a justice system that quite obviously had some systemic racism/classism issues.

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

      Well said

      January 4, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DaMan

    What about the prosecutor, the police, the judge. It I read this right, the father said he was not sure this was the guilty party. If so, then why was he convicted? Why did they let that happen? What is this guy supposed to do not. How can he get a job at 50+, a career, a family? What a mess? Typical, CNN didn’t cover that part did they!

    January 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. fanta

    ASD a British chief justice once said it is better that ten guilty go free than one innocent convicted ! It is inexcusable for a Country that preaches Truth...Justice and the American way...to allow this sort of travesty to happen !

    January 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. pauljack

    There are instances when white males have been locked up and then exonerated due to DNA evidence as well. An imperfect system. Racism in this case? Maybe. But not necessarily.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. RUFFNUTT

    remember black people are always guilty till proven innocent.

    and if they are proven innocent they must of done something else to deserve it.

    atleast thats how most cops around here think

    January 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dave The Rave

    It certainly makes one wonder how many have been wrongly executed before having the chance to prove their innocence. That's my only problem with the death penalty. Surely there are many who deserve it, but the chance of the state killing an innocent person is simply too likely to chance it.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. B

    I believe individuals in this position should automatically win the lottery in their state that week.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Flippy123

    I'm so glad the system works and he was exonerated. See people we don't need reform we just need time. Hey, Dude sorry about that whole 30 years thing. We cool now? Oh, and by the way good luck with getting a job because we aren't going to help with that.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ronnie mills

    He just changed his DNA. He's guilty.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JustSaying

    This gentleman should live comfortably for the rest of his life courtesy of Dallas County.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JusticeForAll

    THANK GOD! They like to kill 'em in Texass, you know

    January 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tetrapod

    Man, to lose 30 years of your life like that – that's just horrible. There's no making up for it, but I do hope that he'll receive a great enough monetary compensation that he can comfortably retire. That's the very least that the system that locked him up should do.

    We know, from abundant experimental evidence, that eye-witness testimony is pretty much the most unreliable kind of evidence out there. No-one should EVER be convicted on eye witness testimony alone, and only identification that happens very quickly after the crime should be considered evidence at all – like in this case, the man could not identify Dupree immediately from the photo line up, and only "remembered" him later, after he'd had a chance to discuss with the female victim. This clearly invalidates the evidence from him – human memory is pliable, and simple suggestion can implant a memory, or modify a memory substantially. It is trivial to make someone "recognize" the wrong person as the criminal, if it is suggested to them.

    This is also why the death penalty is simply unacceptable in a civilized nation – no justice system is perfect, and innocent people DO get convicted on occasion. With a prison sentence, at least they have a chance of clearing their name, and getting their freedom back, whereas if you kill them, what are you going to do? Say "oops, sorry about that!"?

    January 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TonyGa

    Does anyone know what his RAP sheet looked like before his 30 year stint? Might have prevented him from victimizing others.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mario

    This might actually leave room in jails for people that actually belong there.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
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