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. Jessica

    Speeding violations, running a red light, stop sign violations and the like ARE NOT CIVIL VIOLATIONS. They are violations of the criminal and/or traffic codes of the cities, states, or municipalities. I cannot stand it when people who think they know the law speak without actually KNOWING the law.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dan

    Ah, good ol' Texas... the joke that never stops.... how many people now is it that the idiot government of Texas has wrongfully convicted.. For that matter, seeing as how bloodthirsty the gov. there is to execute people, I wonder how many innocent people they've put to death?

    January 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Not nearly enough...spread the word and stay out.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joe

    now all blacks in prison are really innocent.. clear death row... NOT

    January 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Michael Jacksons DR.

    Yo he'll be back they always do yo yo yo

    January 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SJohn

    I wonder – if we have stats to indicate – how many innocent people were executed.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. derrick Binnall

    OMG!!! All of you people saying The State should not compensate this man are pigs. IT IS the states responsibility to prosecute the correct suspect. End of story. If they can take your life from you then they should be responsible to compensate you when you are proven innocent.

    Have you no compassion. I mean seriously are you human??

    January 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rich

    What was his criminal record before he was found guilty of this crime?

    January 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bubba

    I am also an innocent man. When, oh when will I be allowed to go free? I still have to pay for things.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • RamRod

      They oughta take away your computer privedges you SOB. Innocent my butt.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. justathought

    In response to Jimmy,

    The reason why millions should be at play is because the crimes are considered to be committed against the state or the laws – so to speak and not tried in court as a crime against individuals. You should consider doing something very substantial for Mr. Dupree....30 years...and 3 appeals where folks won't requestion ....

    January 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TheBossIsOut

    "Yes your Honor. That is certainly the man. I would recognize that face anywhere"...30 years later.... "Well, your Honor, all black people do look alike".

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

      Just because the victim identified the man inaccurately doesn't mean she's racist. It's not her flaw it's the flaw of the court for not using more substantial evidence.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. wewe

    He probably did something else in his life to deserve being in prison anyway, so no harm done here

    January 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RamRod

    He was probably no saint anyway. So he didn't do it...........this time. Just think of all the crimes he could have and would have committed if he hadn't been in prison for the last 30 years.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • VV

      Well you don't end up with a mugshot being identified by a victim if you didn't do anything before. So yeah

      January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Larry

    Phil

    Steve: it's called advertising. The more news stories they can get you to read, the more advertising money they make. Advertising money is the ONLY reason CNN is on here. It's also why they have so many silly stories, that aren't really news.

    Yea, that's exactly why they exist? To make advertising dollars! LOl That's exactly why your company exists. And Pepsi, Coke, Ford Motor Co. Citgo, Shell, Rawlings.......heck with any product they send out. LOL

    You know what's really funny? There's no one dumber than a person reading an article and finding it dumb then taking time to make comments on it about how dumb the article is. Dumb, dumb, dumb!!!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michelle

    I am happy to see this man finally free. There are so many of you commenting on here who are truly ignorant. In 1979, they did not have the scientific advances we do today and sadly these men (and others) were convicted using the best methods we had at the time. Now we have the means to know for certain and we are trying to fix that. It's sad, but that's how it is. And to say that this man was lucky not to be executed by George Bush when he was governor is so stupid. The governor doesn't have the power to do that to anyone nor was this man on death row. Actually know what you are talking about before you make statements that demonstrate well your own stupidity.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. wewe

    "Cornelius Dupree spent the prime of his life behind bars"
    I call that a free ride

    January 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • sigmundfreud

      No, I would say it makes you an imbecile.

      It case it passed the notice of your tiny brain, he wasn't there willingly.

      Tell you what – you go to maximum security prison for a few years, and see how you like it.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
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