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. gil

    Lost wages??? So you think he would have been working had he not been locked up??

    January 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ is not going to take care this things,, just to be free is a winning..

    January 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Edmund Singleton

    I don't understand, why he was not executed?

    January 4, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Faye

      Because God knew this was his destiny, his test from God so now he can reap the rewards...Read a Bible....

      January 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • tt

      Because nobody was killed, did you read the article?

      January 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cliff

    This is an injustice. This has happen too many times. No amount of money can make up for the lost time. I think the states should do a DNA test for criminal cases retroactively. Why are we waiting for a chritable organization to do what the government should be doing already?

    January 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MSB

    GOTTHUMBS, are you crazy? It does not matter if he has a criminal record or not. You cannot send a person to jail for a crime THEY DID NOT COMMIT, even if they have a criminal record, or if they have committed a crime that they were never charged with. Not paying traffic fines is a crime, but your sentence would not be 30 years; being drunk in public is a crime, but you would not be sentenced to 30 years; punching someone in the face with your fist is a crime, but you would not be sentenced to 30 years!

    January 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jorge washinsen

    We all put our faith in DNA but can a bible thumper that is really tuned in to the bible find anyone guilty on DNA alone and still profess to believe every word in the bible.We all sprung from two people according to most all the religious books and if so our DNA would all be the same.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 4Mom25

    I cannot figure out why on earth they didn't use some of the stimulus funding to train people to test DNA, give them jobs, open up labs to small business owners, AND TEST ALL DNA IN CRIMINAL CASES. Just ridiculous!!

    January 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • TH 3

      Because DNA testing in any kind of a criminal case is not something that would be outsourced to a 3rd party small business....for starters....

      January 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ty mcmahan

    I think that texas prisons should do dna on everybody I think they shouldnt put people in prisons that didnt do nothing

    January 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. yogi

    Texas......Steers and Qu33rs

    January 4, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      You must be an idiot. Your statement is the most intellegent of the entire group of postings! You intellect is staggering. Thank you and we are now all dumber for having heard it!

      January 4, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. @angel

    well I believe you're not a bigot.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jorge washinsen

    I seems Texas has a budget increase in the works and well deserved for the victim.Good luck to him for the freedom has has left.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tyrone

    Texas has been famous for putting innocent people in prison...thank GOD that they now has a unit in place to see that injustices like this one does not happen to another innocent should have been done many years ago

    January 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. William

    It is tragic what Mr. Dupree had endured, while he was locked up the last 30 years he was denied his freedom in the very least but what about the woman he could have married, the kids he could have had by now, the grandkids that could have been set on his lap? These are things that are worth more than money and time put together. In short the state of Texas and the DA should pay out. As for the race card it's about time we and I mean everyone stop with it. And for another matter people in these posts should either learn to spell or use thier spellchecker built into nearly every OS since 2000. Good luck to Mr. Dupree in trying to get his life back.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. steve

    He probably had it better in prison.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ronnie

    DNA does NOT mean this idiot Cornelius Dupree Jr. is Not guilty.So he didn't leave his DNA,so what ?!

    January 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • marie

      Um, Ronnie. It can be inferred from the article that DNA WAS left at the crime scene. When compared to Dupree's DNA it was NOT a match. Your argument is that maybe the didn't leave DNA. Are you implying that he was a mysterious 3rd person that neither of the witnesses noticed? Bc that's the only way to justify what you're saying.....

      January 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      uh, Ronnie, DNA from the gun, from raping the woman, from hair particles in the car, etc., etc., etc. You actually think a couple of robbers didn't leave DNA anywhere during a hold-up/takeover of a car? Oi....

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