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. wombat

    Avoid the south at all costs!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • itllgetbetter

      he was given a roof over his head, clothes, free medical, and food. so what!

      January 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Yes, this is true!! Avoid the South...especially Texas...DO NOT COME HERE!

      January 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Peter E

    What's always unnerving about such cases is that for every wrongly convicted innocent person behind bars there is a dangerous criminal who got away! I know many people think 'better a few innocents also suffer than to have a killer accidently slip by' but convicting an innocent man does exactly that: lets the real villain slip away!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. phil

    @IceT...exactly. Many other free countries swear in everyone in the courtroom, not just the witness. We should do this here. (duh)

    January 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amanda P

      Judges and attorneys are "sworn in" – when they take office (judges) or are admitted to the bar (attorneys). Do some still lie? Of course. Just like some witnesses lie.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kat

    agian he is a black man.....thats why it took so long for them to do additional DNA. white man land they dont care

    January 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • SingleStepper

      Racist comment!

      January 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      You should leave...

      January 4, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. cregis

    What about the victims who falsely identified him? The woman and man who are not identified should be charged with perjury which is a felony. I don't believe there is a statute of limitations on a felony. Her name and the man's name should be made public. After all this guy's name has been revealed.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amanda P

      How do we know they lied and weren't mistaken? Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable – not because people lie (although some do, of course) but because we're not as observant as we'd like to think we are.

      Also, most felonies do have a statute of limitations. Murder does not. Not sure what the statute of limitations for perjury is in Texas, but I'd guess it's shorter than 30 years.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mattmchugh

    I'd like to know a bit more about this case. How, exactly, was this man arrested, identified, and prosecuted? What 30-year-old genetic material was used to help clear him? His conviction should have been beyond a reasonable doubt, and exoneration needs to be beyond all doubt. If the point here is that scientific evidence needs to be a bulwark against human misjudgments, it would be helpful understand the details of the evidence and misjudgments better.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Corey

    Show me the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ least 4 million.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nat Turner

    It would be interesting to know how many whites are imprisoned unfairly. What was the race of the "victims?" Any time a black man is accused of raping a white woman, it doesn't matter WHICH black male did it, just as long as A black male goes to prison! The authorities couldn't care less if they have the right person. This makes me sick!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • dike

      Well nothing has changed in 100 years...

      January 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Your stupid statement makes me sick

      January 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. krepuskulo

    100 Million dollars for this man. ...NOW!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Waterlo

    ...."Land of the free" (that refers to mostly white dudes) "and home of the brave" (that refers to all the others who put up with the white dude's system of justice).

    January 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      There are LOTS of countries where the population is predominately should find one and move there.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. The Dude

    I don't get why all the texas haters feel anything for the guy – shouldn't you hate him? He is texan himself after all.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • dike

      Dude only the oppressors esp. oppressors in power not only in Texas but anywhere in the world. Injustice is Injustice It so happens to be more open and accepted in Texas than other places. Hmmm Bush comes to mind first then Idi Amin...

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

    This is a country built on the blood of others.
    Violence is what we learn from the very beginning.
    Demonize others and their killing will be much easier!: "They don't respect women...they don't love god...they hate our way of life...blah, blah, blah"
    The problem is that when there is no one else (other nations) to kill, we then turn against each other.
    And, like my uncle says, the rope always breaks on its thinner part.
    Minorities: Blacks, Latinos, Orientals, etc, etc are the thinner part of the rope!
    To compound the problem, if the victim is white, the penalty is much more severe and and easier to apply! That's what the statistics shows and not what I say!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. phil

    When Judges are elected/appointed and when lawyers recieve their degree, they are awarded with little more than an official license to lie in court.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mom In MA

    And the ultra left conservatives who scream about their tax dollars paying for criminals in prison when it would be much cheaper to just 'kill em quick' wonder why us evil liberals are against the death penalty.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Always the political card...

      January 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chillonthehate

    I'm white and from texas and have been stopped by cops for no reason a few times I don't know why people have to always make it a racial issue when a black man goes to prison other black people always say he was screwed over those texans are rascist but when a white man goes to prison the same people call him nasty or evil or many other muxh worse things racism goes both ways people need to except that n try not to do it themselves not too mention the fact that most of the white people I know are not rascist but the mexican black and asian people are back to them just because someones ancestors were persecuted does not give anyone the right to be angry with another race

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • StanleyRW

      If you think race had nothing to do with it in 1979 Texas you are crazy...

      January 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
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