'It's A Joy To Be Free Again' - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

'It's A Joy To Be Free Again'

CNN.COM - A Texas man had his conviction overturned Tuesday, 30 years after being imprisoned on rape and robbery charges, and after having spent more time behind bars than any other inmate in the state later exonerated by DNA evidence.

DNA tests proved Cornelius Dupree Jr. could not have committed the crime and on Tuesday Dallas County Judge Don Adams made it official and overturned his conviction.

"It's a joy to be free," Dupree said outside court.

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."

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.

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."

Still, Dupree is trying not to be too angry, despite having 30 years of his life taken away from him.

"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 talks refers to both 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 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 cased 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.

Dupree was paroled six months ago after DNA tests results came back and was declared innocent on Monday, the Innocence Project said. Now, the 51-year-old man's record has officially been wiped clean by a judge.

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.

The female 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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