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. phil

    Texas was one of the last states to make sodomy legal. Gotta give 'em a hand for holding out so long.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. phil

    Why aren't judges required to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth like we are?

    January 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael

    If the justice system has a license to make mistakes then citizens will have the license to break the law.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lin McKay

    Get out your checkbook, Texas. No amount of money can repay Mr. Dupree but you owe him big-time. The check better have many many zeros . . . I wish the Duprees well and may they have a long life remaining.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. phil

    @christopher...in China, if you are convicted of fraud, you are given the death penalty. Imagine if that law were on our books. (and China doesn't pubish statistics regarding executions. Most estimate that about 1,200 per year are executed. If we executed those convicted of fraud in the USA, we would have that many executions per day)

    January 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ulric

    Before I opened this story I was guessing......will he be black...guess what??!!
    As a black man I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of these type of stories.
    It just reflects the unholy and nasty history of America.
    I did not and will not read the article because I am just sick of them.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Parot

    Yeah, seems the fairest way for everyone.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CYBURY

    "amy

    Leave it to Texas to convict an innocent man."

    be thankful he wasn't mentally challenged or a minor... if so they probably would have executed him. remember this is texas, never let evidence get in the way of a good lynching lol

    January 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Aaron1512

    Justice is flawed no matter who you are. It doesn't matter what ethinic background you come from. We can sum it up to sloppy police work. An over zealous prosecutor trying to make a political name for him or herself. At any rate innocent people are put behind bars do to lack of oversight and overrunned judicial system. And as long there no oversight this may continue to happen.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Harry Ball

    Surprise surprise, another innocent black man locked up in the state of Texas. I wonder how many of those 41 released were black? If I ever head out that way, I'll be sure to drive around that state.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TheOldLady

    I sure hope the government has ohhhhh $30 million dollars to pay this man for the 30-year mistake they made. It's not nearly enough money to compensate him for the pain and suffering, but it's a start.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cemetrius

    As much as I love Texas, we are the state that has the motto hang'em high. Even if it means hanging the wrong person high. The state where a murderer gets 15 years to get out and kill a kid later. Someone that sold drugs gets 99 years with no previous convictions. Our justice system in Texas needs a complete overhaul. As long as they prosecute someone for a crime....it doesn't matter who it is. Scary thing....

    January 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mr. mark

    ever notice how a lot of these cases come from Texas?

    January 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Yes, so you and all them other dam yankees need to stay out.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hey you

    PONGANSE A LIMPIAR Y YA DEJEN DE ESTAR FASTIDIANDO GENTE FLOGA SIN QUE ASER

    January 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeithTexas

      No creo que nos podemos limpiar nuestro sistema de justicia. No bloqueará hasta personas por lo que los políticos corruptos pueden conseguir votos con su charla de difíciles de obtener.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. d.cleveland

    I can't think of anything worse on earth than being in prison knowing your not guilty...the state of texas needs to give this man a million bucks for each year he spent inside....tax free

    January 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
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