(DALLAS, TX; Thursday, March 3, 2011) The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an opinion yesterday fully exonerating Cornelius Dupree who served 30 years for a Dallas rape and robbery that he did not commit. The ruling was in response to a motion by the Innocence Project, which, with the support of the Dallas Country District Attorney’s office, conducted DNA testing of crime scene evidence that proved Dupree could not have been involved in the crime. Dupree was declared innocent of the crime by the trial judge on January 4, 2011.
Earlier in the week, Dupree, who was misidentified as the perpetrator of the crime, appeared before the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee to lobby for the passage of a bill that would put safeguards in place to help prevent misidentification. “While I will never be able to regain the many years I lost in prison, I hope that my experience will motivate our lawmakers to pass the eyewitness identification reform bill so that others don’t have to suffer like I did,” said Dupree.
Misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, representing 75% of the 266 DNA exonerations nationwide. “Dallas has already adapted the best practices for identification procedures, but it’s time the rest of the state catches up,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Hopefully, Cornelius’ experiences will serve as a stirring reminder to legislators that misidentifications harm everyone: an innocent person is unjustly punished and the real perpetrator goes free to commit more crimes.”
SB 121, authored by Sen. Ellis, and HB 215, authored by Rep. Gallego, would require all law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies for identification procedures, including lineups and photo arrays such as the one used in Dupree’s case. These procedures must be based on scientific research on eyewitness memory to increase accuracy and reliability. They must also include instructions to witnesses, documentation and preservation of witness statements and identification procedures as well as procedures for assigning lineup and photo array administrators to prevent opportunities to influence the witness.
After serving 30 years of a 75 year sentence for a 1979 rape and robbery, Dupree was released on parole on July 22, 2010. Less than two weeks after his release, initial DNA testing indicated that Dupree was innocent of the crime. Later tests confirmed these results, leading to the trial judge declaring him innocent on January 4, 2011. The same day he was released from prison, Dupree married his longtime girlfriend Selma Dupree. The couple lives in Houston. Dupree recently began taking computer classes at Houston Community College and is interning for Innocence Project Board Chairman and state Sen. Rodney Ellis.
Dupree always maintained his innocence of the November 23, 1979 rape and robbery was denied parole on two occasions because of his refusal to admit guilt in the case.
The night of the crime, two men approached a 26-year-old female and her male friend in the parking lot of a drive-in grocery and forced them into the male victim’s car at gunpoint. The male victim was forced to drive them in his car, during which time the perpetrators robbed both victims of their money and personal property. The perpetrators forced the male to pull over at a highway exit and ordered him out of the vehicle. They continued on to a nearby park where both perpetrators raped the victim.
On December 1, 1979, Dupree, then 19, and a friend named Anthony Massingill were on their way to a party when they were stopped and frisked approximately two miles from the drive-in grocery where the crime began. Police recovered a handgun from Massingill and placed the two men under arrest. The following day, the female victim selected Dupree’s and Massingill’s photographs from a photo array. The male victim, however, was unable to identify either defendant in the same photo array. At the identification hearing and trial, which took place approximately four months after the attack, both victims identified Dupree and Massingill in court as their attackers. During the identification hearing, however, the female victim repeatedly misidentified a photo of Massingill as Dupree before finally identifying it as Dupree’s photograph. The victims are both white and both Dupree and Massingill are black.
Dupree’s defense at trial was misidentification. However, he and Massingill were both found guilty of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon on April 3, 1980. Dupree was sentenced to 75 years in prison. The prosecutors ultimately chose not to pursue the rape charges because a conviction would not have resulted in additional jail time. Dupree appealed his conviction several times, but these efforts were unsuccessful.
Dupree is represented by Innocence Project attorneys Scheck and Morrison as well as Robert C. Hinton of Dallas. A copy of the court’s decision is available here
. The writ of habeas corpus cover form filed by the Innocence Project is available here
, a copy of the memorandum in support of the writ is available here
and a copy of the agreed findings of facts is available here