Cornelius Dupree served 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned today in a Dallas courtroom based on recent DNA testing. Dupree was convicted of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 75 years in prison in 1980. He was paroled in July 2010. Dupree served more time in prison than any other Texas exoneree, surpassing James Woodard, who spent 27 years in prison before being cleared in 2008. Dupree is the 44th DNA exoneration in Texas, and like 86 percent of Texas’ wrongful convictions, his was based on mistaken eyewitness identification.
Sen. Ellis said of Dupree’s exoneration, “It is tragic to hear that Mr. Dupree lost more than half of his life in prison even though he is innocent. How many other innocent women were sexually assaulted since the wrong man was in prison for 30 years? How many more victims and injustices like Mr. Dupree’s do Texans have to endure before the Texas legislature says, ‘Enough is enough! Reforming eyewitness identification procedures should be a top priority.'”
Sen. Ellis has introduced eyewitness identification reform legislation since 2005 to no avail. Earlier this year, the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, comprised of major criminal justice stakeholders in the state, endorsed the reforms contained in Ellis’ 2009 eyewitness identification reform legislation. That same legislation has been reintroduced for the 2011 session as SB 121, part of Sen. Ellis’ “Innocence Protection Package.” It would require all law enforcement agencies in Texas to adopt written eyewitness identification procedures based on scientific research and best practices, with the goal of reducing misidentifications and improving reliability and objectivity. These procedures must include instructions to witnesses; documentation and preservation of witness statements and identification procedures; and procedures for assigning lineup and photo array administrators to prevent opportunities to influence the witness.
“These mounting exonerations provide clear and convincing evidence that our legal system is broken, yet we continue to let legislative sessions go by without doing anything to fix the problem,” said Sen. Ellis. “Simple solutions are available. The legislature needs to come together, show leadership and pass these common sense reforms to give Texans a justice system that protects the innocent, convicts the guilty, and that once again earns the people’s trust.”