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. strangetributes

    I hope this guy is gonna be filthy rich.

    January 5, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. Nexien

    @CathyJ

    1st law: Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change forms and thus in any process in an isolated system, the total energy remains the same. Isolated systems are also called a closed systems.

    The key term here is "isolated"... evolution does not take place in an closed system but in an open system

    2nd law: spontaneous natural processes in a closed system increase entropy overall.

    Entropy may (and can) decrease in an open system. A very well known and fully understood open system that demonstrates the creation of order out of disorder by the application of random heat is the Benard problem, as treated by Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in " Hydrodynamic and Hydromagnetic Stability" republished by Dover in 1981 ISBN 048664071X.

    Evolution is still the best explanation (theory) we have that explains ALL the currently available evidence.

    January 5, 2011 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
  3. GodBlessTexas

    I am a white somewhat redneck Texan and I 100% agree that this man was done unjustly and he deserves to be compensated financially for stealing away 30 years of his life. I am not a racist and I live in Texas. (Imagine that). No we do not, as the people of Texas, take pride in an "express lane" for executions. I am thankful that Dallas County CHOSE to keep evidence as long as they have..... Is your county doing the same? It's funny how people take the moral high ground when they hear something that doesn't effect THEIR situation but do they really KNOW if there aren't innocent people locked up in their States prison systems?? No you don't. Are your courts doing DNA on every croiminal locked up in your state? Do you know. Get of your "Moral High Ground" and look in your own backyard and clean up your own trash b4 commenting about my backyard. I'm Texan and proud of it. Racism is everywhere and from every race and its pathetic. And after we write how we feel about how things should be changed, we all go back to our daily routines like the sheep we are. If u don't like Texas don't come here... I promise, we don't mind. And NO you can't have any of our BBQ

    January 5, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. Goober

    Absolutely countries have free health care. Like Cuba, Panama, Denmark...volunteers from 9/11 have respiratory diseases from smoke and chemical inhalation and couldn't get health care here or work because they were so ill. Guess where they went and received health care. CUBA.

    January 5, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  5. Evie Garone

    What a terrible shame for this man...I hope somehow he can find it in his heart to forgive the system for doing him "wrong" and somehow I hope he can be compensated if it is even possible to BE compensated for 30 years of your life! What a horrible mistake and miscarriage of justice!

    evelyngarone.com

    January 5, 2011 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
  6. @Flashyistay

    Sad!

    January 5, 2011 at 5:23 am | Report abuse |
  7. HangTheJudge

    The real problem is that the people with the responsibility have no accountability. If the Judge and prosecutors had to spend a week in Jail for every year they put an innocent person away, they would be *alot* more dilligent in making sure teh innocent don't get locked up. How do we get people to actually take the Jobs? Pay them more, alot more. Where does the money come from? The victim compensation funds. Until there are no consequences for a mistake, they will just continue to happen.

    January 5, 2011 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. chris87654

    VERY GLAD this man finally got realeased – eyewitnesses are too often wrong. I hope Mr. Dupree lives a long, happy life from here on out. Enjoy your freedom sir.

    January 5, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mommastang

    II sure hope the gentleman despite the wrongs committed against him, was able to get an education... and perhaps join the team that sought to free him...can free others....

    January 5, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  10. Catherine Pape

    What Craig Watson failed to do when flouting statistics for Dallas was to mention the high number of overturns these convictions have brought about and the subsequent $ signed over to the wrongfully incarcerated. My family has first-hand recent and relevant experience in all this. My brother-in-laws case was ruled by a Federal District Court on 12/3/10 and ordered that Steven be given a new trail or released in 30 days. The DA appealed the appeal and we're now having to go to the fifth district court in LA. The DA will loose this case as it is clearly follows the Supreme Court Strickland precedent (ineffective assistance of counsel). As DNA wasn't involved in this case, we got no help from the Texas Innocence Project. Now, why is this costing taxpayers more money? Is it to drive win statistics for political gain? The full picture of Texas DA (DFW area in particular) needs light shed on it. Their refusal to NOT WIN, WIN, WIN is costing us everything we have as well as costing Texas taxpayers. CNN feel free to dialogue with us and our attorneys as this is a ridiculous approach by DFW prosecutors to "protect the citizenry" and costs the state a bundle. If I'm not mistaken DFW's track record for overturns is high. They don't brag on that, huh?

    January 5, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Eslade

    I AM VERY PROUD THAT THIS MAN WAS RELEASED AND GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LITTLE BIT OF JUSTICE IN RETURN, ITS A SHAME THAT WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE FREEDOM, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY CAN SOMETIMES BE OVERLOOKED ESPECIALLY BASED ON A PERSONS COLOR. iF THIS HAD OF BEEN ME, I WOULD SUE TEXAS FOR EVERY LAST PENNY THEY HAVE IN RESERVE. MAY GOD BLESS YOU CORNELIUS, DONT LISTEN TO ANY OF THESE HATERS!!

    January 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. steve

    what about the woman who helped put him behind bars ? how many years does she get now ? where is she at ??

    January 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Reid

    If he had looked like Jaycee Dugard, he would get millions for his wrongful imprisonment. Here is an article that breaks it down: http://apleblog.com/2010/07/04/compensation-for-wrongful-imprisonment-depends-on-who-has-the-keys/

    January 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KT

    This is so sad. Great that he's finally free, but after 30 years. 30 YEARS of his life gone and no amount of money can give that back to him. I can't imagine spending any amount of time in prison for something I didn't do. Knowing with everything inside of him that he's innocent and had the evidence that proved it but it wasn't even examined. This is outrageous. The stories that are coming out more and more about innocent people spending years in prison. When will our so-called justice system answer for this craziness. Destroying the lifes of people, that have proof they didn't do it. Ignoring the evidence with lawyers, district attorneys', and judges coming together in wrong to send people to prison. PLEASE HERE ME...of course there are good lawyers, attorneys', and judges that serve the system well and are just in the rulings they make. But for those who conspire together, it MUST COME TO AN END. We as US citizens need to come together and stand up for those who can't stand up. SPEAK OUT. Innocent people must keep their freedom.

    January 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Barbara

    What’s with this – 30 years of a human being’s life in prison unjustly accused of a crime??? I am just appalled at the continual miscarriage of justice. Now I shutter to think – how many innocent inmates have been executed – how many are still on death row – how many inhumanely existing as pawns in the strong arm of an “injustice” system? As Mr. Dupree said, “The system needs to be corrected somehow." That’s putting it mildly!

    January 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
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