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. Kabel

    A better man than I. I would be extremely bitter and angry. 30 Years!!!! How can the government or public at large ever repay this man. I mean, it's not just the time locked away, but the fact that the public and the courts believed this man was guilty. It show's just how broken our legal system is. How many innocent men and women are executed each year? I mean Isn't executing an innocent person, murder and isn't jailing an innocent person, wrongful imprisonment? The idea that the public and the government can actually believe for a moment that they can just throw money at these people to make the issue go away is a crime in it's self.

    I mean really, people, we all share the blame in this for letting this happen. Mr. Dupree, I am truly sorry for the loss of 30 years of your life locked up in a prison you did not deserve.!!!! I hope you sile suit and get a few billion, maybe then people will wake up to the fact that jailing an innocent man, even one, is a complete failure of our justice system.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. I'm Da King

    How long will it be until he goes back?

    January 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Texan

    I am from Texas, and I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed for the majority of the posters commenting on this story. After spending way too much time attempting to decipher the gibberish that is hacked out on a keyboard, I found that an alarming number of them are criticising either: 1) race was a factor in Mr. Dupree's conviction 30 years ago, or 2) Texas is a naturally racist and backwards state.

    I don't know if race was a factor in his conviction THIRTY years ago, and neither do you. I do know that his race was a factor in his case being taken by the Innocence Project, and his conviction being overturned today. Is that racism, reverse-racism, something else? I don't know. But it certainly isn't a negative reflection of the current legal system in Texas.

    Texas is a racist state? I am sure we are as racist as any other state, and as progressive. It seems that our current success in overturning these decades old convictions is proof of that. What is your state doing?

    January 4, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeithTexas

      The reason there are so many cases being overturned is that the new prosecutor was in the past a defense attorney in the same county and knew how corrupt the office was. He has invited the innocence project to review as many cases as they can.

      In the past there was evidence brought up to exonerate people from Dallas county and the Prosecutor fought them at every step. They were not there for Truth and Justice.

      January 4, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Exactly...what is happening in their states? Since most, if not all, do not keep evidence the wrongly convicted in their states will never get out. That's probably why we don't hear about them.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    If there is anything that has very little reliability it is eyewitness identification it had lead to more wrongful convictions than any other form of evidence as the article points out. Eyewitness identification between different races has even worse reliability.

    In the old south all it took was one white person to positively identify a black man of a crime and that was the end of his freedom. Now this man had to adjust to a vastly changed world from when he entered prison. My heart goes out to him.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael

    This guy should sue the crap out of the State of Texas.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Texan

    radicalrad: Would you mind letting me know where you are from? And before clubbing away at the keyboard, would you mind looking up the correct spelling? I would like to enter it into my GPS system as an area to avoid. If you are representative of the area, it is best that modern society leave it be to disintegrate from the ghetto is must already be into nothingness as you kill each other off.

    January 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • babs

      I needed a good laugh. It truly is frightening that someone could be so completely ignorant. It reminds me of the movie Idiocracy. The English language continues to disintegrate. Very sad.

      January 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sigmundfreud

    @Patricia, who said

    (1) @Texian – – Most of the Texas-hate comments are probably coming from the tree-hugging, granola-eating Californians...they're just angry because their state is in the toilet. Nobody in Texas wants them here.
    ================================

    You're joking, right? You mean that people who point out that cops and prosecutors in Texas have a particularly bad record in false/incompetent/malicious prosecutions are "Texas haters" and "tree-hugging granola eating Californians".

    Ah ... maybe we're people who are appalled that in Texas, cops and prosecutors seem to put guilty verdicts on their CVs like a gunslinger's notches on his gun?

    By the way, I'm Canadian .... you know, that place to the north. You know, the place that offered sanctuary, voting rights, and land to fugitive slaves while your beloved Texas was a slave owning state? You know, Texas, part of the land of the lynch mob – about 500 occurred there.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Daniel

    so this guy is innocent for the crime that he was incarcerated for, but chances are that he was guilty of another crime, one that he was not caught.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • OPINIONATED

      So it's okay to STEAL 30 years of his life? If he wasn't caught and arrested for another crime...THEN IT DIDN'T HAPPEN... People like YOU are part of the problem with our justice system now! You can speculate all you want, but it doesn't make it true.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      The problem with your logic is that its a prelude to locking everyone (including yourself) up...

      How can *you* prove to *me* that you never committed a crime..?

      January 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lance

    SUE THEM ALL!

    January 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MichaelnBigD

    I laugh at the individuals who stereotype then blame the Lone Star State. They discriminate the same way they claim Texas does. NONE of them have been here nor have any clue about Texas other than the garbage the media feeds them. Hey idiots !!! DON'T BELIEVE everything you read or see on TV !! As far as this person's exoneration not many know that prosecutors in Dallas in the 80s were encouraged to find justifiable cause for a guilty verdict(white, black, or hispanic). Of course that has come full circle now in Dallas that even guilty defendants often go free (due to lack of evidence). BTW I am NOT a redneck but I am a caucasian from Dallas.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nyles Cota

    this guy will be back on cnn for going on a killing spree in three months. woulda been better off left in prison. the rage he must feel is horrible.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JohnVI

    I live in Texas (well, Austin). And more people are moving here than to any state. I have lived all over the US and the typical tough-talking know-it-all Texans certainly exist. Texas is becoming so diverse it becomes tougher and tougher to be bigoted. I hope Mr. Dupree gets a few millions bucks to have a decent life with and that Texas learns the lesson that ignorance does not pay.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DutchFrisian

    And how do the Americans think of the Death penalty now after this case? It's crazy that in most of the U.S. states the death penalty is still in use.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DutchFrisian

    Brad

    Freeman: While I will not say you are right or wrong, there are also more people in the world than ever before, better methods for catching people than everbefore, and more means for killing people than everbefore. With that in mind, it is enevetable that the prisons will continue to grow as the population grows and the methods improve.
    January 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |

    Well i find it strange that there are so many people are in prison in the USA. Yes you can get guns easily in you country, but the same I have to say for Canada. But there are not that many killings or people in jail. So how can it be that in my country of the Netherlands the rates are also low of people in prison. Yes I now there are only 16 million people living in my country but I think in the USA there are a lot of innocent people in prison because it is big business. Why can companies start a prison there? I think that It would be good for you country to open small prisons who are controlled by the state/country only. In those large prisons there are a lot of gang wars going on. In the Netherlands we don't have large prisons like you have, so there is more control.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DAVINCIKODE

    Innocent man jailed in Texas since 1979

    Woohoo. All over-eating white women have something to do this weekend. PROTEST! PROTEST!

    January 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
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