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. KeithTexas

    You have to be kidding – America is 5% of the world’s population and we house 25% of the world’s prisoners.

    You don't even have to be smart to see that there is something wrong with those numbers. The numbers are so out of whack that it is really statistically impossible that we have so many criminals. Our judicial system quit being about truth and justice sometime in the 50's and has continued down the road to ruination ever since.

    At their worst Communist China nor Russia ever imprisoned as many of their citizens as we now have in our penal system.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      That's because they kill them

      January 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • CLYDE CASSTEVENS

      LET ME TELL ALL OF YOU,YOU CANNOT FIND A MORE CROOKED SYT

      January 5, 2011 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • CP

      That's because of our legal politicians and voters, who promote/run on promises of each being tougher on crime than the person they want to replace. In addition to that problem, more and more prisons are being built and administered by private contract companies. The goal of a business is to make money, and the way for this industry to make money is to have more prisoners. More prisoners who are fed the cheapest food, given the cheapest care, not rehabilitated, so when they are released, it's usually only for a short time. Within a couple months, whey return to being money makers for the privately contracted prison system, on the taxpayers dime.

      January 5, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. michigander

    i guess my first comment was to graphic to post.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. michigander

    30 yrs. is alot to take away from anyone, white or black. so stop all the racist talk and look at what the state of texas has really done to an innocent person. he needs to be compensated to extent. a public apology from the accuser`s. Mr. dupree may god bless in this new yr and may you live another 30 + yrs. to enjoy ur freedom and rebuild what was once torn apart! GOOD LUCK!

    January 4, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • june

      Very kind words, Bless you too! I wish him the best of luck, my advice is, no regrets just move on.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. oilpatchrigger

    in texas if you've been charged and jailed for any length of time...while in prison you will have committed some infractions of prison rules to remain alive..... so he is still guilty of something we don't know about and therefore should remain in prison forever.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • erdacl01

      Wow. I hope you're being sarcastic.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      This might just be the most stupid comment I have ever seen.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • kate

      Good old TX, on the map because, they are so good at handing out the death penalty and wrongful convictions, what a wonderful state full of republicans, lets call TX "the killem state

      January 5, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • todd

      oilpatch u go do some time then talk

      January 5, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • todd

      oilpatchrigger i guess u have done nothing wrong before U ARE A JOKE mans not guilty

      January 5, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. Marissa

    "'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."

    And how many were African Americans convicted by the system???? I'd love to know the stats.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. michigander

    this is the judge:-(, this is the prosecuter:-(, this is the so called victims :-(:-(, this is the jury,:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(, and this is the look of an innocent 21 yr old man ;-]! point blank.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Redwing Minnesota

    If you took todays knowledge and told of people of these things to people of 200 years ago you would blow their minds away commit you to a nut house or burn you at the stake for being some type of sorceror or witch, so too, what is in the future and of Gods knowledge would blow our minds away.

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

    very unfortunate but i can guarantee he has a long criminal record , why people always have to play the race card in their comments !!! , why is it that black men who are usually a minority in all western countrys usually make up 50 percent or more of the prison population ...

    January 5, 2011 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • steve

      there is no justification for putting innocent people in prison. Look at the number of capital murder convictions that are overturned years later because of DNA. These trials are the most scrutinized and they still fail. How many non capital trials are just railroaded because the judges and prosecutors are in on the fix. Our justice system leaves a lot to be desired. Prosecutors should be held responsible for their actions.

      January 5, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Eslade

      and your getting your stats from who? im black myself and have never been to jail, and never will be. Sounds like you got some race issues buddy

      January 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. TheHuntress

    Jury of your peers.

    January 5, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Koge

    God is faithful and will always uphold the just.

    January 5, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Nevermark

      Except in the cases of miscarriages of justice or the victims of violent crime. Or disease. Or economic misfortune. Or, .... well probably too many other exceptions to list. Would have been great if there was a God who was always faithful to the just, think of all the anguish that could have been avoided!

      January 5, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jason

    50,000 For every year he was locked up. That is not even close to fair but it at least would show remorse on the state's behalf. He basically lost his life, he is owed retrobution.

    January 5, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • RMBS

      @Jason I agree with you. But, seeking revenge or retribution will just take what Mr. Dupree has left of a life. There is no amount of money that will give him even a second of his life back. I am in awe of people like this man. For 30 years he fought for his innocence. In all honesty I would have probably given up after a decade or 2, and become resigned to a fate behind bars. He is an inspiration to me because I don't know that I would be as sane and calm as he is after 30 years in prison. If I was in his shoes after the first 10 years the Why Me's would have been replaced with insanity. How people that are falsely accused hold it together I'll never know. I wish I had his strength. I wish that the rest of his days be filled with love, happiness, and all the beautiful things in life we all take for granted.

      January 12, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Calvin Hobbes

    DNA evidence can be contaminated. A full investigation for every crime should be conducted, judgement should not just based on a single aspect.

    January 5, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. mrniceguy504

    I'm glad to see that they (The City of Dallas) were able 2 let this man live the rest of his life outside of bars but who & when are they gonna cut him a check, right ?

    January 5, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. mrniceguy504

    Im glad to see this man is able to live the rest of his life outside of bars but who & when are they (The City of Dallas ) going to cut this man a check, he should at least be able to get 15 million and stay @ Texas Stadium for FREE, right ?

    January 5, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • MichaelnBigD

      Texas Stadium was imploded last year. it's a construction site now.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ed Bailey

    Some fool said no country has free health care. U could be in a geico commercial.Germany and canada have socialised medicine.Germany's is paid for with a luxury tax.want a bicycle,no tax. Buy a mercedes and pay for your neighbor's cold! The rich in this country will step over you while you croak! Just ask the queen of mean,LET THEM EAT CAKE.

    January 5, 2011 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
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