DALLAS (AP) – Cornelius Dupree Jr. finally made parole in July, after spending 30 years in prison for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. A week later, DNA test results came back proving his innocence.
The 51-year-old Texas man will finally get his own day in court Tuesday, when a judge is expected to set aside his conviction on claims of actual innocence. The hearing comes a day after Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said the DNA testing shows Dupree “did not commit this crime.”
If the conviction is overturned as expected, Dupree will have the unhappy distinction of being the longest-serving DNA exoneree in Texas, which has freed 41 wrongly convicted inmates through DNA since 2001 — more than any other state.
Nationally, only two other DNA exonerees spent more time in prison, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center representing Dupree that specializes in wrongful conviction cases. James Bain was wrongly imprisoned for 35 years in Florida, and Lawrence McKinney spent more than 31 years in a Tennessee prison.
Dupree’s 30 years in prison will surpass James Woodard, who spent more than 27 years in a Texas prison before he was cleared of murder in 2008.
There have been 21 DNA exonerations in Dallas alone since 2001, more than any other county in the nation.
Dallas’ record of DNA exonerations is unmatched nationally because the county crime lab maintains biological evidence even decades after a conviction, leaving samples available to test. In addition, Watkins has cooperated with innocence groups in reviewing hundreds of requests by inmates for DNA testing.
Watkins, the first black district attorney in Texas history, has also pointed to what he calls “a convict-at-all-costs mentality” that he says permeated his office before he arrived in 2007.
The DNA testing in Dupree’s case also excluded a second defendant, Anthony Massingill, who was subsequently convicted in another sexual assault case and sentenced to life in prison. Massingill remains in prison but maintains his innocence. DNA testing in that second case is ongoing.
Dupree was charged in 1979 with raping and robbing a 26-year-old woman. He was sentenced a year later to 75 years in prison for aggravated robbery. He was never tried on the rape charge.
According to court documents, the woman and her male companion stopped at a Dallas liquor store in November 1979 to buy cigarettes and use a payphone. As they returned to their car, two men, at least one of whom was armed, forced their way into the vehicle and ordered them to drive. They also demanded money from the two victims.
The men eventually ordered the car to the side of the road and forced the male driver out of the car. The woman attempted to flee but was pulled back inside.
The perpetrators drove the woman to a nearby park, where they raped her at gunpoint. They debated killing her but eventually let her live, keeping her rabbit-fur coat and her driver’s license and warning her they would kill her if she reported the assault to police. The victim ran to the nearest highway and collapsed unconscious by the side of the road, where she was discovered.
Dupree and Massingill were arrested in December because they looked similar to two suspects being sought in another sexual assault and robbery. The 26-year-old woman picked both men out of a photo array, but her male companion did not identify either defendant in the same photo array.
Dupree was convicted and spent the next three decades appealing. The Court of Criminal Appeals turned him down three times.
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