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. Kendra Haughton

    Something has to be done in our justice system. This is just not right. How do you send an innocent man to prison for 30yrs for a crime he did not commit. How many more innocent people are serving time? How many were executed.

    January 7, 2011 at 7:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • 1 Day is 2 Long!

      You're right...we're hearing about these stories ever week! How come no one is held accountable? Why isn't the media taking a closer look instead of reporting these as a success story? How many more are wrongfully accused and who is hearing their stories before they reach the 30 year mark?! CNN...step up, do some investigative journalism, this is far too pervasive to be ignored!

      December 11, 2012 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. Lopez79

    30yrs is a lifetime in itself. That is sad no matter what race a person is for them to serve that much time for a crime they never committed. There needs to be some type of "checks and balances" for our justice system to make sure that when evidence is brought in a case, that it is reviewed ASAP and a case retried (if necessary). This is also to make sure a person is released from prison (or not sent in the first place). Judges also need to be accountable for how they hand down sentences and be consider if it was their family member being incarcerated. How many others are in prison now or have been executed and never did anything?????

    January 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ellis

    They should have executed the sob

    January 19, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. jerseygirl

    Jim, please don't blame the victim who misidentified this man. She was traumatized and then the police show you a bunch of pictures or do a lineup and you figured that the guilty person is in there and he may have looked very similar to the actual attacker. Who knows? the police can really pressure you to pick someone, especially from what I've read, in Texas. Be mad at police who didn't care that the male witness, less taumatized, did not identify this man as the robber/rapist. I was robbed once and they police brought me a lot of pictures to go through and I had to be honest and say that if he walked right up to me I would never know because I only caught a glimpse of him. That was over 25 yrs. ago and police work has improved greatly.

    January 23, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. drake

    hey

    October 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Weequeges

    thank you for the topic! I some hours searched in a network for something similar :)

    November 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Texian

    So true Eric! Please spread the word!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Keith Stone

    Disgraced California–

    Liberalism is a mental disorder? I suppose your a God fearing Christian conservative? I happen to be a liberal and a Christian and I feel being a liberal is a better way of being Christian than conservatism. Most liberals support health care for all. Conservatives would rather see the poor go without so that they can buy that big gas guzzling SUV...

    January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. zort narf

    yes, i agree wholeheartedly that nothing good has ever come out of texas. in fact, anything that happens to sneak past their borders should get sent back there immediately. this has nothing to do with liberal v conservative nonsense. this is about americans casting aside this diseased part of our country.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bill

    Eric, I can understand how you are angry, but you have judged the entire state on the merits of only a few. Is this not the very definition of prejudice?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. dike

    Hey the Texans are so scared they will become an extinct race they are trying to erase it off the text books.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. chimingin

    If you are black and live in Texas you deserve injustice? Are you serious? So all black should move or should injustice move?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ted

    I make a point to avoid setting foot in Texas, the state promotes hatred of gays & lesbians, fairness is not possible in Texas unless you're white and straight.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Andy

    Making generalizations about the entire state population is ridiculous.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. VV

    Not sure I agree. I visited Texas a few times and had a relative who lived there–no one seemed racist where I was. He lived on a street that had blacks, hispanics, and whites all living together happily as neighbors. So I think your comment is a flawed

    although I'm sure there are racists in Texas, you can't generalize the entire stated

    January 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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