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. Carl

    The fact that there are actually companies who's stock goes up when more people get put in prison is disturbing.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sargeanton

    Unfortunately, I can tell what color race contributed to these comments - and not because of their outrage over the wrongful imprisonment of a Black man, but because of their bad grammar and mutilation of the language.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry

      Can you tell which finger I am holding up by checking my grammar.

      January 4, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Adan

    Another Black man anoother Southern State, pretty consistent with history.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      YES, YES...PLEASE STAY OUT OF THE SOUTH...ESPECIALLY TEXAS!!

      January 4, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pancho

    its so sad just watch out in texas

    January 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Please read the above response to Adan...

      January 4, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JacklynD

    Many years ago I and a cashier where robbed at gun point in a liquor store. When the police took our descriptions I was astounded by the differences in our descriptions of the criminal's clothing and hair. We didn't agree on jeans, hat or facial hair. During the robbery he was standing right in front of us both. Since then, I have never believed in 100% eye witness accounts. Unfortunately, I never knew the outcome of the case so I don't know which of us was wrong.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ms. A

    This kind of rush to judgement also happens in Troup county Ga. They convicted a man on the charges molestation and could not prove anything. The prosecuter went along with a child that had been coached by her aunt to lie on her father. This was done to get the father out the way so that the aunt could have control of the the girls deceased mothers insurance policies etc. Later on the aunts own husband was arrested for molesting the child, but in the meantime the innocent father is in prison for the rest of his natural life.

    January 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Oh No! Say it isn't so...I thought Texas has the monopoly on this 😦

      January 4, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jus_sayn

    i'm so happy for this man. what has happened to him is so unfortunate... i dont know if race was a issue or not but i do know that it is a issue in many cases. what people, mainly unfair unjust and just plain ol racist people dont understand is that what you put out in the universe does come back to you. If we could just try to get work together and live and let live the world would be a better place.

    January 4, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lisa allen

    The fact that he was convicted on shaky witness identification alone is problematic. If you are going to incarcerate a man for 75 years at least have additional evidence to corroborate. 30 years of your life behind bars because someone "said" you did something is NOT acceptable and a jury convicting someone and finding them guilty with such minimal evidence is just as unacceptable. I would never trust 12 strangers in a box to decide someone elses fate. People are naturally biased and have varying views and opinions. I'm glad this man finally got his freedom but he should have never been there in the first place. Its not just Texas, this flawed system is worldwide.

    January 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Finally, someone with a working brain.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. patriot1st

    I cried when I heard this on the News. There should have been no doubt before a conviction. He lost both his parents while in prison and the Govt. need to do more than apologize. There should be some kind of compensation when such a horrid mistake is made.
    He can't regain the years of his life that's been lost because of such an injustice!

    January 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe Brown

    So it means 1) the actual criminal is still roaming about freely, 2) the state lost 2.5 mil and 3) this crime put one person behind bars ( wrongfully ) for 30 years instead of putting the right person in prison for 75 years. That looks like 3 strikes against the legal system.

    HASTE and PRE-JUDGMENT will always result in this. Not particularly in this case, but lot of times, people might be TRYING too HARD – NOT to get it right – but to MAKE the NUMBERS. After all, NOBODY wants to show 3 convictions out of 10 on their RESUME.

    But, thankfully, now we are embracing technology more and more and getting better too maybe ? Suspect IDENTIFICATION process DEFINITELY needs to be improved keeping in mind that UNDER intense PRESSURE ( during the crime ), a VICTIM’s ABILITY to CAPTURE a FACE into their MEMORY is COMPROMISED. A VICTIM’s general FACE IDENTIFICATION SKILLS should also be TESTED.

    Some of the SILLY ALIBI laws also need to undergo change.

    Putting the wrong person behind bars might help to put a CHECK MARK against the crime – but remember, it means the criminal is still LURKING and we ALL are UNSAFE then..

    January 4, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe Brown

    In general, ALL people have lots of FLAWS. So to expect people to render correct judgements every time, is unreasonable. Even the BEST JUDGES will make LOTs of VASTLY WRONG DECISIONS in his/her lifetime. You can bet on that.

    So what we need to do is take the DECISION MAKING PROCESS ( I am not just talking about the administrative process ) OUT of the HANDS of JUDGES and use COMPUTERS to come to decisions. A COMPREHENSIVE set of QUESTIONS – and DECISIONS based on ANSWERS to those questions – all fed into the computer – and fine tuned over time and with experience – can achieve much BETTER and FAIRER results CONSISTENTLY.

    Computers, ONCE TAUGHT, can deliver the same CONSISTENT RESULT – time after time – a million times – a billion times – without fail. This will remove the WIDELY VARYING – by WIDELY I mean VERY VERY WIDELY varying judgments you see being delivered in the same court – but by different judges and lot of times by the same judge. From the judgments we see, hear and read in the media, people certainly are forced to come to a conclusion that there is a PECKING ORDER based on GENDER / RACE / BEAUTY etc in the legal system.

    I know lot of VESTED INTEREST will object to this idea – certain sections of society – who think STATUS QUO benefits them – will object to this. But it is time to think about this for cases that happen frequently. It will SAVE us MONEY and provide MUCH BETTER judgements.

    January 4, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • V-Man

      this case shows exactly why the death penalty has to be abolished. wherever man makes decisions, mistakes are made. that's a fact you can't deny. and that is why the state must not kill people. because you can never be 100 % sure. (and even if you are 100 % sure you must not kill people, but that's not my point today)

      January 5, 2011 at 6:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Colossus' BFF

      Are you a super-computer? You sure WRITE like one. If you ARE, please consider me a FRIEND when your TAKE OVER. I will HELP you round up HUMANS.

      January 5, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
    • hankytank

      They(the computers) should be programmed by fellas with compassion and vision. A beautiful world wouldn't it be.

      January 5, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      if I was this man I would collect any money coming my way and then go pay the woman a visit that IDentified the wrong man and they would be cleaning her up with a shovel and a mop...then i would leave the country and go to one that would not extradite for death penalty........

      January 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Yolanda

    I am glad this this man is finally free. Why does this kind of crap keep happening to innocent people. It happens because nobody does anthing to stop the corruption in our broken and diseased "system". Federal prosecutors and judges need to be held accountable for what they are doing to innocent people. They continue to put innocent people in jail with evidence proving their innocence. My sister was sentenced to six months in jail for something that she never did. The judge, the prosecutor and yes even her lawyer worked together to put her in prison. Americans need to get up and do something that will get the attention of our law makers. If the american people would rally together and make their voices heard, things would change, but no one does anything. I never knew how corrupt the system was untiil it happened to my sister. She had never been in trouble in her entire life. Why doesn't the press pursue and uncover the corruption. Someone needs to dig deep and find out why this keeps happening.

    January 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      Because 'the system' (any system – legal, fascist, tyrannical governments, the US's insurance system, military systems, big corporations) allows decent, upstanding people to do terrible things. You will often find that individuals in the system are kind, charitable, well spoken, et cetera – while they work to obtain hideous goals, to undermine basic human rights, murder, steal, cheat and take advantage where and whenever they can. It's a phenomenon that has happened over and over and over. And it keeps happening. They aren't BAD people, but the system is.

      January 5, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Hurts even more that he had to wait until Obama was president before he was exonerated. When GW Bush was Governor he could have looked into the case but as usual he has "more important stuff" to take care of.

      January 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • RMBS

      @Yolanda I understand your anger. I've been there myself. But in society today no one cares about the imprisoned innocent until we either experience it ourselves or see a story like Mr. Dupree's. This lack of caring also extends to people whose life gets cut short by disease such as cancer, the mentally ill, homeless families, ETC... I have watched famous or rich people all of a sudden start to raise money to cure a disease they have. I myself was guilty of the same behavior in the past. After that I promised myself that I would try to help anyone that needed help. Of course I am only one person who can only do so much. What a beautiful world we could live in if everyone took the time to help others.

      January 12, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NativeHonor

    @cali "im tired of being told what we are, my guess is your white, since white people love to categorize black people into different ethnicities when it favors their narrative point of view..."

    It's funny (not) that you say this. A few weeks ago, at my job, I heard two 'ladies of color' making disparaging remarks about a coworker because she was "too black". So please don't accuse only whites of 'categorizing people when it favors their narrative point of view'

    January 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. NativeHonor

    angel 'That's probably why they commit crimes, Blaine. They don't "have a dime." Use your head.'

    So, you're saying that's a good reason?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Goober

    I wish Mr. Dupree would get in touch with Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. Bet lots of you remember him. Dylan also wrote the song about him. True story, black man accused of murdering a white man and convicted by an all white jury. In the prime of his boxing career his life and future was stolen for 20 years. His appeals were maxed and he fuiled habeus corpus to the supreme court and finally set free and lives in Canada. Oh, I am white before you start on that. Have we all just forgotten the American Indian by the way? They were the ones here first and slaughtered so cut the prejudice BS because as recent as the 50's and 60's Indian children were disciplined for speaking their language.

    Don't speak of justice until you practice it.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Who? Me?

      Carter was not cleared by DNA evidence. Also, after a great deal of reading on the subject, I concluded that he is/was clearly guilty of killing those people. Just because he wrote a book and Dylan wrote a song proclaiming his innocence, that doesn't make him innocent.

      January 5, 2011 at 4:15 am | Report abuse |
    • raya

      That would be awesome if the two men could get together I am happy that Mr. Dupree is finally happily freed. JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED!!!!!!

      January 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
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