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 Leeds

    Just a *little* bit of anger.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Damien

    21 wrongful convictions in Dallas alone? that sounds criminal to me

    January 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. martijrod

    So true Mr. Jingle love your comment

    January 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Southern by the Grace of God

    He spent 30 years of his life w/ free room & board, hot meals, and health care supplied by my taxes. I'd say he owes me something, not the other way around.

    And there was a reason he was in the photo lineup to begin with.

    Always wanting free money, so typical.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • jdank

      eat a dck!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Black Widow

      Come outa the back woods, and leave the trailer park. Black folks run thangs now. Didn't you receive your NOTICE, fool!

      January 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • truecrime21

      So you are saying that you should receive something from a guy who was deprived of the most fundamental thing we have in our country, his liberty? And how is compensating this man giving him free money? Money is hardly a beginning to making amends for this grave injustice perpetrated on an innocent man, but it is the best that we as a civilized country can do until we fix the system. And to the point that your "tax dollars" have been providing this man with amenities....what would your solution to this situation be???...we should have just executed him after his conviction so that you would have a couple extra bucks to spend? Your ignorance and arrogance are part of what is perverting the justice system.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Black Widow should run to the first book store and learn to spell.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. eclipse

    Where does it say the accusing female was white? Look who's racism just got exposed.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Black Widow

    Mr. No Fingers, you have already made an assumption. No matter what his prior record holds, at issue is his time he served for no cause. Black folks are sick of this spit.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Randy

    If this guy was profiled, then maybe he paid an unfair penalty because of the demographic disparity in criminal behavior. FBI crime statistics indicate that violent crimes are disproportionately committed by Black and Hispanic males. So, it's understandable that people profile. And who can blame them, given the statistics? It's a way people protect themselves. If Blacks committed crimes at the rate of, say, Korean-Americans, then people wouldn't mind having them in the neighborhood.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. philerup

    .we're sorry and handshakes are fine but they dont pay the bills this guy needs$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    January 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bill

    I think that he would feel much better if the Statotexis would just give him, say, $10 million or so, which is only fair.

    Wow, Texis has freed 41 wrongly convicted prisoners, and there are probably 41,000 more wrongly convicted prisoners still locked in the Texis Penile System. I know a few, one of whom is my son.

    Maybe when Mexico takes the state back, they will open the gates and let 'em all out.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Bill said, '...Texis Penile System. I know a few, one of whom is my son. Maybe when Mexico takes the state back, they will open the gates and let 'em all out.'

      Are you serious? It's Texas Penal System (please look up the definition of penile). Mexico will never take the state back but we could send some text books there if that would help. Why are you guys always talking about taking the state back? First, I'm Native American and we had it first...you guys were merely squaters. Second, why don't you strive to make you country better instead of posing as a cuckoo bird and trying to take the nest built by others? You constantly complain about the whites but if you had Texas, in a few years (if that), it would look just like Mexico. Help your own people first.

      January 5, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ferg

    No amount of money can pay for what this guy went through for the last 30 years.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. truecrime21

    To answer the question that everyone keeps asking...he can receive up to $25,000 per year for each year that he was wrongfully incarcerated, but there is a maximum cap at $500,000. He will likely receive the full $500,000 if and when the civil suit is brought. This is per the laws of the State of Texas.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Syncretic

      Nope. You can check the status of compensation laws in Texas and elsewhere at http://www.innocenceproject.org/fix/National-View1.php

      January 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • truecrime21

      You are correct, I did a search and was looking at the 2007 laws. The law was amended in the 2009 legislative session. He will actually receive much more than previously stated. Thanks for fact checking me on that.

      January 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kelley

    I agree with Joe, this is an awful miscarriage of justice. It's disgusting that 30 years of this mans life was wasted in prison. While no amount of money will ever get his lost years back, Texas should be forced to compensate him at an level that makes prosecutors stop and think before stuffing more innocent black males in jail. They should also be forced to do DNA testing on every single prisoner who requests review.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff

    Are you kidding me ? How could the idiots in Dallas County beat their own drum? Where was this mans DNA test 10-15 years ago ? This story leaves out the fact about how many years this poor man ask for the test. He has been robbed of his youth, yet they pat themselves on the back. Why not test all the DNA of these men, since they are so great at keeping evidence ? Good luck to you Mr. Dupree, just don't count on Dallas County to be there to help you now that you are free.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ruready

    this is to 'gotthumps' and the rest of the bigots(and if the rest of you are not bigots do not take offense) go and suc* your mothers d**k. oh and have a nice day while you're doing it.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. LibraLee

    He spent his entire life in prison never being able to pursue a career or build a family and yet he still manages to only have "a little bit of anger"....definitely a camera comment because I can just about see him at home calling this justice system by every name but fair. What his lawyer coaxed him not to say is "I'm madder than a mother effer, you damn right I'm suing the those mother effers right out of thier tight texas dungaree's"

    January 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
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