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. Goober

    Why so long to free this man? DNA has been around a long time now.

    This is also what happens when you get convincing liars on a witness stand.

    How can he sue? Who can he sue? He is the victim. Maybe the person who did the identification needs to be hauled in.

    The time needs to be un stync with the crime. Why are people getting 15 years for murder?

    Home of the brave, land of the free?

    I hope God walks with this man and keeps him safe and blessed. This man has done his time over. He deserves recognition for that. He should never ever have to pay taxes, especially in Texas. He should receive instant disability because his opportunity to get an education, experience, and work towards hgis future were disabled and made impossible to achieve.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. anonymous

    Seriously, we shouldn't put a single innocent man behind bars even though it costs us losing several criminals.
    Uncaught criminals live in constant fear of getting caught and there's always a chance of catching them and punish them more severely. But how in the world is this man compensated for his lost thirty years.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ed Bailey

    Having been a victim of an illegal incarciration in utah that involved blatant illegal courtroom procedure done in front of a full room, justice does not exist in this country. I lived in texas for years and yes it's scary. Mine happened in utah where the justice court has a 90% + conviction rate. Not funny,it's money!

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

    US Prisons population is 10 times the rest of the world. The US is nothing but a prison and the prison is a prison in a prison. Nazi Germany was much nicer.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. NativeHonor

    To Justin: I would be interested to see what the stats are in California as far as percentage of population incarcerated and also what percentage are black, hispanic, white.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. angela

    What a shame the justice system would throw someones life away like that yeah there should be an investigation of perjury and beyond reasonable doubt was the jury all white

    January 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      And again with the race card...

      January 4, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Esteban Bernal

    Wow... and we can just imagine all the other innocents in the world that have to take blame for another lowlife's stupid actions. If only those people can be as lucky as this man.

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

    It is very sad that before DNA evidence we often solely relied upon eyewitness accounts, and further back in many instances hearsay and beliefs, to prosecute others. It is hard to fathom how many people have been put to death because of this. And what kind of life can someone who gets cleared after 30 or 20 years have? No job, no money, possibly no where to live. If they had a spouse they may have moved on got remarried. Just sad.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JH

    My husband is a black police officer in a large Texas city. He was asked once by a suspect he was arresting, if he were being arrested because he was BLACK– go figure.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeffrey Root

    I wonder how many innocent people have died on Death Row

    January 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. line

    a curse on all of you whom have trolled with negative response and inhumane comments, a curse on you and your future generations. Your ill fate will be sealed out of your selish pride. A hundred torments await you. Mock all you will.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Chazz5519

    60 minutes ran a segment on the renegade Dallas prosecutor in 2008, about how many blacks were being sent to prison for long terms on shoddy evidence, no evidence, and sloppy police procedures. Once the prosector retired that's when hundreds of his prosecutions came under review. Google 60 Minutes Dallas Prosecutor Segment. Lots of good facts about the rogue prosecutor.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ruth

    Hey I live in Texas, only a small part are rascists. Its the politicians in Texas that are some of the culprits. I like it here. Im not rascist.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Harry

    I'd making my list and checking it twice. Gotta figure out whose throat I am going to slice. Wrongly imprisoned man is coming back to town!

    January 4, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. cavemanstyle

    Put it this way.. if a Judge, prosecutor, and the cops who arrest someone aren't willing to bet on their own imprisonment for being wrong, and sending someone away for that many years, then there should be no conviction at all. How can you look at yourselves in the mirror after putting an innocent man in prison for that long? If I were you, the person responsible for this, I couldn't live with myself.. a concience.. for life..

    January 4, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
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