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. steveo2504

    The prosecutors should be charged and convicted now to let true justice shine.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonym

      Steveo, I don't think the prosecutor should be charged or convicted unless he/she was in on it. Instead I'm in favor of charging those two victims whose false testimony (likely unintentional, but if you're not sure, don't swear you're sure!) caused this travesty of justice to occur. I'm guessing the prosecutor believed the female witness who was lying, and unless the prosecutor had a very good reason to know the witness was lying, I don't blame the prosecutor for doing his/her job. I blame the witness who caused all this in the first place.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. will III

    sad. To all who think it's funny, hope it doesnt happen to you or someone you love.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Becca

      Well you are so right. And anytime when crap like this happens there are so many people who start the race stuff. I feel so sorry for this poor black man. And I say poor not because of money but it really is a shame as where at his age will he get a job. No where as I can see it. ANd he should not have to flip burgers either. The best part of his life was taken from him and he will have nothing now. SO I feel that the state should have to give him a huge sum of money so he can live a good life now. And as far as race here it is really nothing. I do not care if this was a white man either I'd feel sorry for him too. It really does not matter who it is here this happened to some one who was not guilty. I just think this is a darn shame. ANd I wish this man the best of luck for the rest of his life.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Doug

    I love it when white people who have aided in destroying the black family over the last 40 years with their so called progressive votes make comments about because he was black he was guilty.

    Strong families give a kid a fighting chance, a chance to do well and become sucessful. That is the key in America, face it innocent people go to jail because of their representation, and guilty people go free because of great lawyers.

    These are human lives, the way Democrats use them for their poltiical great society Johnson game till this day is disgusting.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boney

      Doug, yeah, it's always somebody else's fault.....never your own fault.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      If you are trying to say that liberals who voted for welfare destroyed the black family I want to point out that Republicans demanded the rule that welfare can not be paid to a family where there are two adults who could work and as a result, poor people of all races have gamed the system and marriage rates have steadily declined for all races ever since. So it was Republicans who destroyed families in America. Today I think close to 40 percent of babies are born out of wedlock in the US.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bad_Conduct

    too much debt. Release the prisoners!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anne

      Hopefully in your neighborhood and not mine.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. PJ

    This guy looks like Mike Vick Sr. I'm sure we'll see this guy sometime soon in the news again!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • JackieInDallas

      Show me a picture of you, and I'd be willing to bet I can come up with at least three people who committed horrible crimes that YOU look like. Judging someone's character on their looks is one of the more serious errors you can make as a human being...

      January 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • kim

      moron

      January 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • dike

      If I were to judge by looks, he really looks innocent and I feel sad for him for taking away his life.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JackieInDallas

    Number One, I live in Texas, in the Dallas area, and will fully agree with some of the criticism of the justice system here. There were a lot of bad convictions, but I will argue that that was true in a lot of states 30 years ago. We did (and probably still do) have DAs whose only goal was convictions of ANYONE, not convicting the guilty.

    Number Two, I would like to address the issue of DNA testing. It is true that DNA testing first became available in 1987 IN ENGLAND. It took considerably longer for it to become standard in the US, in particular in Texas. And regardless of what most Americans believe, it actually CAN be faked or give false results. There is no single test that is 100% accurate, 100% of the time. So, subjecting this man to DNA testing would not necessarily have eliminated him as a possible suspect. Not all cases can be resolved with DNA. He was selected due to the irregularities in his trial (i.e. the IDing by the woman, not backed up by her fellow victim, etc.) and it turned out that DNA testing WOULD be needed for his case.

    Number Three, and probably the most serious, Project Innocence is trying to FIRST address those on Death Rows in the different states. While prison isn't pleasant for the inmates who are innocent they are still alive and likely to remain so, while those on Death Row have a lot more immediacy about their cases. And the sheer numbers of people incarcerated for long sentences makes it difficult to choose suitable candidates for review. Nothing is as simplistic as it appears in a short news article...

    January 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dempsy

      You make some good points but there is one statement I take absolute objection to, "...While prison isn't pleasant for the inmates who are innocent they are still alive and likely to remain so". Quality of life is as important to being alive for the healthy and sound of mind. They need to fix the issue before putting an innocent person in jail. 6 months in jail for a crime do did not commit is in itself an injustice!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • indyguy5

      "it actually CAN be faked or give false results. There is no single test that is 100% accurate, 100% of the time. So, subjecting this man to DNA testing would not necessarily have eliminated him as a possible suspect. Not all cases can be resolved with DNA."

      I work at a DNA lab and this isn't really correct. Although not 100% accurate, who would argue with a scientist telling you there's a 99.99% probablility the seman isn't his? It's disingenuous to argue that it's not worth using or reliable if it isn't 100%. Of course that's not to say DNA techology will reveal all innocent prisoners since there isn't always DNA evidence available.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • indyguy5

      Before the speller-checkers pounce, I know it's spelled "semen".

      January 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • SJ

      He/she didn't say DNA tests weren't reliable, just that they were not 100% accurate. I will allow that your figure is correct 99.99% so roughly 1 out of 10,000 is incorrect. Very reliable, but I wouldn't want to be that 1 in 10,000

      January 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Blank

    You would think that the witness should be held accountbale at soem level

    January 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • nkayden

      I think you should learn to spell. You must be from Texas

      January 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Blaine

    @Eduardo Madrid
    If those people actually came here and made a contribution to society most people wouldn't care. However, if you look at the statistics they fill our prisons with violent criminals. They cost the taxpayers millions locked away in our prisons. A far cry from a routine traffic violation. Sure there are some who try to make it as law abiding citizens but chances are people who come here without a penny in their pocket will become desperate when they have no income. Politicians need to quit worrying about votes and crack down on this. We can't afford having millions of illegals infiltrating our borders. Oh, and Eduardo people who commit civil infractions generally pay the fines they are given as punishment. How many of these illegals even have a dime to pay any kind of fine?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boney

      And hope you don't get in a vehicle accident with one!!!! Not many carry car insurance. My niece is trying to pay 2500 dollars to get her car fixed after getting hit by an illegal without insurance.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • angel

      That's probably why they commit crimes, Blaine. They don't "have a dime." Use your head.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. phil

    @Doug...you face it. The real reason innocent people are convicted is because Judges and lawyers aren't sworn in to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" as in many other free countries.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • IceT

      agreed phil... If you've ever dealt with a lawer, they'd rather not hear the truth from their client if it hurts their ability to win a case, plausable deniability. Our system is set up for the win not the truth.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jason boston

    Thats america for you, land of the coward, home of the slaves.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Micheline

      I agree

      January 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • John D

      Select you your new country to reside in and I will help you pack.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • John D

      * – you in last post

      January 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      No one is holding you hostage here....are they? Then please by all means ge out of here Debbie downer!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Heck, I'll pay for a one way ticket!! Just say when and where.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      If you live in America you are most definitely free to leave...actually we would prefer that you do leave. And take Susan Sarandon and the rest of her rabble with you.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Micheline

    Texas is the good old boy state, racism is their anthem. a bunch of idiot that is so dumb as to claim racial supremacy. they hate has cause so many harm and ruined so many lives just becauce their skin color was black. disgrace! But a day will come when their evil will be dealt with.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Yes, and don't ever forget it!!!! You should leave the state immediately!!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • JackieInDallas

      Beg your PARDON? Where the H*LL do you get off characterizing a whole stateful of people like that?!! I've lived in Texas for most of my life, and considering that over 50% of the people in this state were not born here, I think you have just dug yourself a deep well by "profiling" them like that. Not that anything I will say will convince anyone as bone-deep dumb and prejudiced as you are, but we have museums, universities, and all kinds of "smart" stuff here, too!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • John D

      Interesting that you can't see that lumping all the citizens of a particular state into a disparaging category is as blind-sighted as being a racist.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      I am a sixth generation Texan. This was a wonderful place to live up until 15 -20 years ago when all the people from up north and from south of the border started pouring in. Now, I agree, we are pretty much getting like most of the other states that are fuked up.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Micheline...I think evil is the teacher who didn't have the skills to give you an education...but that would be blaming the teacher...maybe you are the one who was at fault. But again, if you hate America so much why don't you just leave?

      January 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. t-olives

    It took so long for the DNA testing because they knew if proven innocent, Texas would have to pay this poor guy a lot of money for taking his life away. Sad

    January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mp

    why are so many overturned convictions referred to the article above in texas? perhaps that should be looked into.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Yes, it is horrible....as Texian says, "be sure you never come here".

      January 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Smartypanz

    To over-ride his anger with his joy is the smartest thing he could do to savor
    the years remaining. It makes my grudges seem petty. I'll let this inspire me
    for the day-I'm sure I'll return to grumbling about petty shwit.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Colonel

    In cases like this justice takes a double hit. Not only has an innocent man spent 30 years in prison, but also the guilty party has possibly spent 30 years of unjustified freedom.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
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