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. Cassrobb

    Texas is the most racist place n the world for all u stat ppl check those stats

    January 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Yes, we are. Stay away.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Super D!

    No amount of money could ever give this guy back all the wasted years he has spent incarcerated but, x amount of dollars would be a good place to start in helping him move on with his life.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. hey you

    AGENTE LATOSA PONGANSE A LIMPIAR A A SER OTRA COSA Y YA DEJEN EL CHISME

    January 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Partymonster

    Texas? Really?

    January 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. duke

    When the average person enters a courtroom,it's like going straight to a foreign country where no one speaks english!!
    Propaganda is the rule of law in this country.
    I don't support the legal system because its too biased.
    Phuck the police and all who support them.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lalita

    How many innocent people are locked up? In my opinion all inmates should have DNA checked. This is not justice to the victims, the perpetrators are still free and committing more crime. Sloppy work!

    January 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jimmy Crack Corn

    I don't care.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. paul

    This is happening way to many times. I would order a review of all cases where DNA evidence could change the verdict. It could have been simply a reflection of the Bigotry of the times. Its about truth and justice , not about some people's prejudices being upheld.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • derrick Binnall

      Logic!! I love it.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bulloch

      Can we count on you then to pay for the extra testing? At least lead the argument for higher taxes, to pay for all the DNA testing and the extra people needed to perform the testing for every felon claiming he/she is innocent? I'll guarantee you, that will be at least 99% of everyone behind bars. I get that wrongful conviction is terrible, but we can't just assume the police formed the conviction on race. 20 years ago, they made do with what they had, they didn't have access to the tools we do now, just as 20 years from now, when DNA testing is the equivalent to blood-typing, people will be complaining about how closed-minded our justice system is today.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. phil

    Our judges should be sworn-in before sitting behind the bench. Obviously.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Andrew

    @Eduardo Madrid yeah cause going 5 miles over the speed limit is going to cause a budget deficit worse than the deficit the illegals are causing to this country. Idiot.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. phil

    @paul...what makes you think we can afford DNA testing on every case. One in five of our homes have been reposessed. Get real.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. phil

    Until Judges and Lawyers are placed under oath along with the defendant, we will have wrongful convictions.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jon

    "I must admit there is a bit of anger"... jeez, I bet.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. duke

    I wonder why there is no comments from the fiscal conservative??
    After all isn't it gross negligence to waste your tax dollars on wrong convictions and compensation??
    The biggest joke in the world is the(POG)(party of God),
    Where is your outrage tea-drinkers??
    Hey Michael Steele,why don't those holy rolling mercenaries of death sign you up again to speak for all black people,by pronouncing Texas non racist??
    Phuck the police!

    January 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BelleCheveux

    this is what happens when rednecks run the country

    January 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
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