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. Spear

    Its so moving how this man rates the value of joy over anger. I concur, of course, and is very logical that gaining freedom (at last) surpasses all agonious moments held injustly in prison.

    Bravo Dupree, you have been agry for 3 decades, now enjoy life man.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Frank Booth

    So... how much money is he going to be awarded?

    I know if I spent 30 years of my life in prison due to a wrongful conviction, the government better be taking care of me and allowing me to live the rest of my life in pure luxury.

    Anything less would be an insult.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I agree. I will also bet you will see people posting here about how it would be typical that he would ask for a 'hand out' for this 'mistake'

      January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melissa S

      I agree Frank! This man should be given any amount of money he requests, and should never have to work a day in his life. Nothing can bring back all those years in prison! How horribly sad – I wonder how often innocent people are put in jail?

      January 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. justathought

    Wewe and Ramrod....sincerely hope your comments are just sarcasism and not the way you really see things..if not then they are extremely ignorant and hateful...can't understand why anyone would/could come off as you do

    January 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Doug

    Why is the #1 goal of every Democrat to destroy familes?

    January 4, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • stejo

      Ah, you figured out our agenda. Now we must deal with you! muuu hahahahahahaha

      January 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. anonymouse

    white people can't tell black, mexican, and asian people apart.

    that's why the wrongly convicted are all minorities

    January 4, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      Who cares?

      January 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • jmt

      No, but we can tell the friggin idiots apart from others. Gotchya

      January 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • kim

      ha...that's true. Everybody just looks the same, they'd say.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      To Anonymouse...that's should stay out of Texas

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

      Again, I would like to see the stats in all of the other 49 states to see the percentage of incarcerated persons compared to that State's populace and also what percentage of those incarcerated are white, black, hispanic or other.

      I think you will find per capita it's about the same.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dennis C. Pence

    People – it is not racism that caused this – it is a corrupt judicial system that includes black and white attorneys and judges. They are more interested in "solving" the crime in their minds than giving justice to the accused. This is a travesty of justice, no doubt, but in other countries the guilty often fo scott free. These same lawyers and judges go on to be Governors, Representatives, Senators, Supreme Court Justices and yes – even Presidents. We need to repeal the 17th Amendment and take back control of our country. As for the gentleman talking about 5% of the population of the world (check your facts- you aren't even close ) 70% of the world's lawyers (you are sadly off here also) and 25% of the world's prisoners (25% of what number? (we have no way of knowing how many people are incarcerated in the world) – doubt if we really know how many in the US. Don't focus on the symptom without being willing to deal with the problem. In a matter of speaking, Mr. Dupree is "lucky" and should be compensated monetarily for what happened to him. But he is "lucky" from the standpoint that I'm sure several have been executed that were innocent. It is not a perfect system.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      Fiftyseven percent of the time 78% of the facts are drawn out of the clear blue. Then of that bunch at least 63% are completely wrong, 28% are only partically correct, and the other 9% are of no value.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThunderKitty

      I agree with you on the corrupt judicial system, but if you think racism had nothing to do with it you are sadly mistaken. He was convicted 30 years ago in the state of Texas! There is no way in hell that racism had nothing to do with it. Texas has a back history full of racist good old boys who were a part of the judicial system you speak about. Racism is one of the aspects that makes/made it corrupt. I was born and raised in the state of Texas, not trying to dog my hometown, just stating the facts. I wish it had a different history, but it is what it is.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DJ

    I'm reading some of the comments on the blog and a few people have their info incorrect. The female picked him out of a photo lineup but the male companion failed to identify anyone in that lineup. Everything is not always about money and being a taxpayer. He lost time, something no one on this blog wants to lose. Also may have lost his ability to function as "normal" people do outside of a prison environment and has to learn to re-adjust at 51. It's sad but the "legal" system is not about what is the truth, but instead what can you prove and if you don't have the resource(s) to prove, you will lose...

    January 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*Johnny from all over this country

      Unfortunately we are all being pimped, by greedy people, and career driven folks with an agenda. No race is excluded!!!!!! Oh yeah, for those racists white folks, no blacks, no hispanics= 14th century Europe you peasant

      January 4, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MikeD

    Please stop playing that tired and cliched race card...

    January 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boney

      LOL, it's all they know how to do!! You don't think they are going to take responsibility for their actions do you????

      January 4, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Please stop playing that tired and cliched race card...'
      stop dealing it and they won't be able to play it.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boney

      We don't have to deal it....they have their own cards.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'You don't think they are going to take responsibility for their actions do you????'
      'they have their own cards'

      ............yeah blanket statements about 'they' kind of proves a point.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boney

      Um, excuse me, you used the word "they" in the previous post. What does that make you?

      January 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rick james

    You are guilty until proven innocent in this country period. And I am sick and tired of these minorities crying race, this is 2011 get over yourself you have more racest holidays and racest colllege funds then any white person has ever had. In reality you are the racest trying to ise your race to your advantage. I also agree the the people who said he was. The offender and id'd him should now be charged for false claims.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThunderKitty

      When racism ceases to exist, then and only then will the so-called race card stop being thrown. People need to actively seek to stop it or at least speak out against it when they see it happening. It happens and if you are in denial about it, then more than likely you are a perpetrator of it.

      January 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. IceT

    It appears this man was not guilty & freed, well done this time.
    However, this "Innocence Project" exonorated Steven Avery in Wisconsin ... he showed his appreciation by capturing, raping, murdering and burning the body of an innocent young woman and encouraging his nephew to join him! DNA evidence does not always "prove" innocence, only that there is more DNA at the scene.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. james d frm ft worth

    There should be improvements made in a flawed system however less attention is spent on the illegal alien problem we should be putting them in prison instead of sending Them to smu

    January 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. phil this book: "The Wall of Ignorance". It chronicles how even to this day, there is a line drawn down Texas from roUghly Dallas to Houston. On the east side of that line, racism and bigotry thrive and are nurtured. There are even churches of the same religion in the same small town where white's go to one church, and black's to the other. And just outside of Lufkin is a small town that for years appeared on Texas state maps named "N-word town". Even today it is named Nigton.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • NativeHonor

      Texas is horrible...stay away...stay away!

      January 4, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. c

    hope he gets a lot of money

    January 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Carl

    I know this wasn't a death penalty case, but this is exactly why I'm now against the death penalty. I don't have a problem putting a killer to death. But I just don't trust our government or our court system to only convict guilty people. If someone is wrongly convicted of murder and gets a life sentence it may be a travesty, but at least there is always the chance of freeing him when proof is found. If you execute someone and later find out you screwed up on the conviction there is nothing that can be done.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Brian

    Maybe we should ask the Chinese to help us reduce our human rights violations.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • angel


      January 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
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