(Houston, TX)—At a press conference today at his office, State Senator Rodney Ellis was joined by State Representative Sylvester Turner in welcoming Cornelius Dupree home following his release this week. Cornelius Dupree served 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned this past Tuesday in a Dallas courtroom based on recent DNA testing. Dupree was convicted of robbery and rape 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.
“I cannot fathom what it must be like to be imprisoned for a crime for which I am fully innocent, much less imprisoned for 30 years. Lucky for the vast majority of us, we will never have to know such tragedy first hand. But that does not mean we cannot learn from Mr. Dupree’s tragedy or the tragedies of the 43 men with similar stories. There are simple and cost effective reforms to eyewitness ID procedures, that if implemented, could significantly reduce the number of innocent men and women being sent to prison and increase public safety by putting safeguards in place to ensure that the correct perpetrator is prosecuted,” said Senator Ellis.
“It was a very long struggle, but I am grateful that the truth has finally come to light,” said Cornelius Dupree. “The most important thing for me now is to make sure other people aren’t misidentified and wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.”
“No one should ever want to see an innocent person serve one day behind bars. We should implement whatever processes we can to protect the innocent,” stated Rep. Turner.
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.