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. Kevin D

    30 years?!!? He should automatically be the next mega millions winner.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. RC

    Wow...To be young, male, and black in Texas. I'm so proud of him for being so humble. Wrongful convictions would surely drop if the accuser spent the equal amount of time in prison as the wrongly accused...

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MsLogic

    Hey guys I have a proposition for you, for those of us who enjoy intelligent conversations in forums let's stop commenting to the keyboard commandos who use the forums to incite anger. I guarantee you that if they are ignored long enough they will go away but if you keep engaging the crazy they will continue to spew nonsense.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mistylynn

    All those years in a prison knowing that you are not guilty of the crime has to be horrible beyond belief. I wonder how many others are going through the same thing?

    I wish you the very best Cornelius. I feel really sorry for the years you spent in prison knowing you were wrongly accused.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. waybey

    He just changed his DNA. Besides he looks guilty.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob Doles Army

    Liberals and conservatives can both eat a fat one. Both of you want to oppress people into living by YOUR standards. I just want you fools to stay out of my life. I don't want your darwinism forced into my face oORyour religion stuffed down my throat. I've got the right to be left alone.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CPC1

    After losing 30 years of freedom and income from having any sort of job, what is the financial compensation for the guy? It should be significant and those who made the misidentification should be held accountable in some way!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dike

    These crimes are so heinous that one is blindfolded in trying to get justice. Again the law always support the criminals till they are entered in the system so both sides fight ridiculous battles just based on semantics and language and interpretation of the law and not what it is really meant to be.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. J.C.

    its woderful that some mistakes can be corrected . Im sure Mr. Dupree will agree that later is better than never . I applaud the judicial system, but wat about the years he has lost,the tears he has shed, the sleepless nights, and those wrongfully incarcerated where no DNA was available to exonerate them; as of myself, who was fortunate to have had an outdate

    January 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JOn

    Osafie, I was referring to a comment made previously, get off my back. How someone comes on to a discussion like this and says flatly "i dont care" is unintelligent and rude. Now, my breaks over so let me get back to my unintelligent job of financial advisor. Get back to cooking and cleaning, your husband will be home soon.

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

    More stories about corrupt Dallas cops. They're as dishonest and bigoted today as they were 50 years ago, it's nothing but a good ol boy network of coverups and lies, harassing, jailing and killing the citizens they were sworn to serve and protect. If you live in Dallas you better be one of them, or else your life and liberty are forfeit.

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

      OMG!! I had no idea that the only liars and corrupt cops in the world lived in Dallas! What an unintelligent remark to make...and I don't even live in Dallas.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave254

    Every cop and prosecutor involved in this case should have to match, day-for-day, all the time they railroaded this guy for. And NOT in a protective section of prison, either.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kat

    This is the world we all live in.......and it will continue to go on

    January 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Boheme

    Free him..Clear his record..Get him decent reimbursement, at least 75K for each year spend innocently behind bars..Offer him a decent job if he cares to take one..Finally, have his tormentors – DA and responsible detectives – publicly apologize to his face, media present. If they refuse, demote them or cut their salaries till they do. THAT would be Christian!!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Haitian

    I want to hear what the victims (especilly the one that misindentified Mr. Dupree) and everyone from the arresting officer, convicting judge and jury to district attorney think.

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