Lessons Learned From Cornelius Dupree's 30-Year Wrongful Conviction

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After spending three decades behind bars, DNA evidence has proven Cornelius Dupree's innocence. The 51-year-old Texas man was locked up in 1979 for rape and armed robbery. On two separate occasions he could've reduced his 75-year sentence by admitting he was a sex offender. "Whatever your truth is, you have to stick with it," Dupree said Tuesday. "It's a joy to be free again."

No other Texas inmate has spent more time wrongly imprisoned than Dupree, though, according to the Daily Mail, the Lone Star State has released 41 innocent prisoners through DNA evidence since 2001. "It's a great tribute to Cornelius and his spirit that he was able to fight this long and this hard to win his freedom," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, the New York-based legal group that defended Dupree. Here are the important takeaways from the case:

  • The Photo Lineup Was a Big Problem  Depree and the other man convicted in the case were misidentified by the victim in the photo lineup. At the time, both men were placed in the same linuep, "which is now against best practices used by law enforcement," reports Jennifer Emily at The Dallas Morning News. Dupree and Scheck both emphasized the need to reform the way police conduct photo lineups although Dallas police, in particular, have made many improvements in recent years. "Dallas police show lineup photos sequentially instead of all at one time. The lineup is also given by someone not involved in the case," reports Emily. "Although Dallas police changed their policies after numerous DNA exonerations, most police departments in the state have not."
  • These Kinds of Convictions Happen All Too Often "It's hard to imagine enduring the injustice that Dupree suffered--he served three decades in prison, only to be released on parole this summer, two weeks before DNA testing would prove him innocent," writes Matt Kelley at Change.org. "His story, however, is far too common these days. When Texas' highest court makes his exoneration official, Dupree will be the 266th DNA exoneree nationwide and the 41st in Texas, which has seen more convictions overturned through DNA testing than any other state."

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  • Police Are Still Relying on 'Bad Science' "I actually divide forensic science into two big camps," says Michael Saks, a law professor at Arizona State University speaking to the AFP . "There is the camp that is using real science that is borrowed from basic science, such as chemistry and DNA. On the other hand you have got the kind of--well, my kindest word for it is almost-science or wannabe science, and that includes handwriting, fingerprints, fire and arson investigation and forensic dentistry."
  • Preserving DNA Evidence Is Key  "Dallas has so many exonerations not because it was more egregiously unjust than other counties in Texas, but because unlike other jurisdictions, Dallas County kept the DNA evidence refrigerated and stored for decades," reports Wade Goodwyn at NPR. "That's what saved these men. What convicted them was erroneous eyewitness testimony."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.