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)

    This Just In:He decided to stay in prison for thirty more years since Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper were continuing to host the Cnn New Years Eve ball !

    January 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sharp

    Our justice system is not perfect but it is the best we have within the limits that we have as human beings. The vast majority of convicts did their crime & many have done worse that they were never convicted of. In this case instead of thinking of one man who was wrongly convicted, think of the million or so (best guess) people rightfully convicted during those 30 years in Texas. I think 41 out of that vast number is a very good record.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. realdeal

    I read on another site they have a law that for people wrongly imprisoned its $80k a year and he should get 2.4mill tax free.

    I dont think it has much to do with race, Im sure from the initial investigation they fournd it was a black man they just got the wrong guy in the line up, they couldnt have been "that" wrong.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ziggie

    some of you ppl are talking racism. coming from a black man from louisiana its still alot of racism around. dont go saying black ppl are always bringing it up. do you have any idea what racism was like in 1979 in the south? you wouldnt know if your not black. if no evidence was thrown out any of the cases from 1909 til present day do you know how many ppl would be released because of dna? black ppl were beaten and hang for stuff they didnt do. i thought rosewood taught some of us that? there are ppl locked up right now for longer than 30yrs and will never get out because evidence has been thrown out(if there ever was any). so ppl please stop saying black ppl need to stop with the racist stuff when ur parents and grandparents are making you racist when NONE of you can really find a reason to hate black ppl

    January 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. nick

    OK so here's an idea. If they get a DNA match somewhere down the line, and catch the real criminals, put these two innocent guys in a room with them, and give them a plethora of weapons and torture devices. The two guilty men would be unarmed. The instructions to the two innocent men? "Serve justice".

    January 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bowman

    It's good that an innocent man will be freed, but when are they going to apprehend the blacks that actually committed this crime?

    January 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • atb igfoot91

      How about we just pin it on YOUR racist anus?

      January 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Izzy Roush

    And I bet the majority of the innocents that have been released are either a minority, poor or function at a level that does not allow them to defend themselves. Texas, your justice system is less than third-world.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ann Shannon

    My heart goes out to Mr. Dupree and to the many others who have experienced such a horrifying miscarriage of justice. I pray that he will find effective trauma therapy to help him cope and to heal, so that the remainder of his life can be as full and happy as is available and the state should pay for it for the rest of his life if necessary.

    DNA testing should be mandated and carried out for all past capital punishment cases, including those already executed, for which the DNA evidence is available. The innocents who have been sacrificed to society's blood lust deserve the right to be vindicated and we in society need to face up to our responsibility for taking innocent lives.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. atb igfoot91

    Texas: What a f-ing evil place.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    This is an unfortunate situation and I truly feel for this man. However, more guilty people walk away. Our judicial system does not work very well and it costs the taxpayers too much money. The reason is our judicial sytem is not based on "justice". It's based on a game played by two big-headed, highly paid attorneys. Attorneys who defend criminals care nothing about the law or justice, they just want to win and get their paycheck and/or 15 minutes of fame. It's disgraceful. With the discovery and accuracy of DNA these days, trials should be shortened or done away with completely if there is enough evidence/DNA in a case to prove someone is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. The system needs to be overhauled, the sooner the better. I am infuriated by how much money is wasted defending criminals and supporting criminals with food, clothes, education and health care while the idiots in Washington talk about a deficit and how there is no money for health care or education for law-abiding citizens. When are we the people going to do something about this?

    January 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. D


    January 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. D


    Kinda brings a new meaning to calling the majority of Texans bigots, doesn't it? Maybe you should think about your own racist comments before making them.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NativeHonor

    George stated, "You nailed it. At this point, our society owes him at least one free murder. Anyone he wants in Texas. He has already paid for it."

    Do you really have to post in order to let people know how ignorant and ridiculous you are? You apparently are advocating murder, even of an innocent person, so that says a lot about you.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. brandy

    Look At What Happened To 3 Men From Arkansas. The West Memphis Three.

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

    This guy should be paid 1,300,000 dollars of the police uppp... ii feel bad for this guy.. if deff unfair.. the justice system need a make over BADDDD

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