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.”

Post by:
Filed under: Courts • Crime • Justice
soundoff (1,011 Responses)
  1. bill

    He is black, it is Texas. Is anyone surprised? My country is a joke. Truth Justice and the American way. Oceanside property in Arizona, baby.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. rachel

    So sad to see he had to waste his life away in jail for something he never did.. my heart goes out to him and his wife..

    January 4, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. jon

    Everybody that is locked is guilty right?? What a joke. Justice (Just Us). Pathetic system

    January 4, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. phil

    In many other free countries, the judge, jury, attorney's, even the court reporter are placed under oath. Here, only the ones on the witness stand are. If that doesn't invite corruption, what does?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. Stickemup

    He is about to be very rich

    January 4, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Some Dude

      No. When an innocent man is released, they do not even get the help a criminal would get. You cannot sue for wrongful conviction. He's pretty much screwed. If the state is generous, they might give him something to get his life back together.

      January 4, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • clay

      Sumdude: sorry but you are wrong...texas has an exoneree compensation program to the tune of $80k per year you were wrongs incarcerated. Being he was wrongly incarcerated for 30 years, he should be getting about $2.4M

      January 4, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Texian

      Dang, that's not gonna leave very much to take care of all the illegals we are currently caring for.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. RealistView

    The prosecutors probably spent years and millions of $$$ fighting to prevent the DNA tests from being done. The lying, ignorance and arrogance has to stop. Police and prosecutors have to stop trying to be right and start doing the right thing. Also, he likely had a jury trial and they convicted him based on their own bias because the witness couldn't identify him in a lineup but identified him at trial. After all of the wrongful convictions, it's amazing that people still assume that just because someone was arrested, that they MUST be guilty. Stop living in a bubble.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Sun Stevens

      "The prosecutors probably spent..."

      Maybe you should change your name to "Speculative View."

      January 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      How about if you say it's "likely" that you should "probably" "assume" we could stop living in a bubble? Like you seem to be, where everyone "probably" gets a fair trial . . .

      January 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. EE

    What a sad story. I am wondering about the girl picking him out in the photos now, though. Did she just need for someone to be guilty? Guess he had the wrong picture at the wrong time, in front of the wrong eye witness. Psychology teaches that eye witness testimony is usually inaccurate.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      What, you never heard the old saw about "all black people look alike?" There's some truth in that a tribal resemblance between people whose ancestors were from East or West Africa still persists after generations here.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joe Shmoe

    Think of all the crimes he would have committed if he wasn't in jail!! Thank you and God bless. Of course I am only kidding.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. pete

    The justice system sucks

    January 4, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. phil

    @Phil...CNN is incorporated, and must turn a profit. What would be said to shareholders who lost money because CNN reported what people didn't want to hear and lost viewers/ad-revenue?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • daniel evan opheim

      Good point!

      CNN Is incorporated. They need the AD $$$$ to stay in business.

      Again, Phil...GOOD POINT!

      January 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kim

    This is why I am against the death penalty, even for heinous crimes. You can free a prisoner, but you can't bring them back to life if they are dead. Even though this man lost a lot of years which can never be replaced, which is absolutely horrible, at least he has the rest of his years to at least try to find some joy and happiness. Small comfort but it's something.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  12. phil

    The idea that major media is government controlled is laughable at best. Each media giant has a target audience, and tell them what they want to hear for fear of losing viewers and advertising profits. The same can be said of our major religions, and the tele-vangelists who become filthy rich by telling their target audience what they want to hear as opposed to simply telling them the truth.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Regdude

      @Phil – So, this is all a lie just to generate cash?

      January 4, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. Luke Brown

    This is disgusting. Obviously the DNA and the DNA testing has been around for years.

    Why didn't Texas do this years ago? Why did the Innocence Project even have to take this matter to Court?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. Sid

    First: The judges will not go against the former prosecutors in awarding this man compensation because most of the time the judges are themselves former prosecutors.
    Second: I always wonder when I read a story like this what the victims of the original crime have to say about their testimony that put an innocent man (in this case two innocent men) in prison. They were victims, but they turned around and victimized these men.
    Of course, there are laws to protect everyone except those who were wrongfully convicted. Ask the original prosecutor or the arresting cops and and they'll still probably say they believe these guys are guilty.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. phil

    Why aren't judges placed under oath?

    January 4, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30