A Black Texas man was freed from prison Jan. 4 after serving more than 30 years behind bars for a 1979 rape and robbery he did not commit. Released based on DNA findings, he spent more time in jail than any other Texas inmate exonerated after a reexamination of his case.
“It’s a joy to be free again,” Cornelius Dupree, 51, told reporters after his conviction was overturned.
At age 19, Dupree was misidentified in a photo array as one of two men who raped a White woman and robbed her male companion at gunpoint. Although the male victim didn’t choose Dupree out of the photo line-up, Dupree was sentenced to 75 years in a Dallas prison.
Dupree maintained his innocence, but several requests for an appeal were denied until the Innocence Project, a legal group specializing in wrongful convictions, took interest in his case.
In 2007, the group requested physical evidence from the crime scene and after DNA testing, discovered that sperm found on the victim did not match Dupree’s. The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office validated the findings and Dupree was released on parole last summer.
Additional testing in December confirmed Dupree’s innocence, and a Dallas judge officially tossed out his conviction at a hearing Jan. 4.
“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 statement.
Sheck said that 75 percent of wrongful convictions later cleared by DNA evidence result from misidentifications of suspects by witnesses.
The Innocence Project is currently lobbying for legislation that would reform the eyewitness identification process to increase accuracy and reliability. The bill would require all law enforcement agencies to adopt new policies that include new lineup and photo array procedures, detailed witness instructions and the preservation of witness statements.
“Mistaken identification has always plagued the criminal justice system,” said Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney for the Innocence Project. “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.”