"It's a joy to be free again," Cornelius Dupree Jr. told a courtroom full of lawyers, courthouse staff, media members and several fellow DNA exonerees this morning during his very brief testimony. Dupree spent 30 years in jail serving time for a robbery and rape he did not commit, but the hearing that exonerated him took only a few minutes. He served the most time of any person exonerated by DNA in Dallas County. After the judge told him he was free to go, applause and cries of "All right!" erupted in the courtroom.
In 2006, the Innocence Project took on Dupree's case, and the organization's director, Barry Scheck, was on hand calling today "this glorious day." Surrounded by exonerees, Scheck said that "the men behind me are in an exclusive club" that no one should ever belong to -- those wrongly convicted by eyewitness testimony.
He spoke at length about the necessity of reforming witness identification procedures in the 82nd Texas Legislature, which begins next week.
"I'm sick and tired of coming to this place," Scheck half-joked, referring to trips to Dallas to represent wrongfully convicted inmates. He called upon the courtroom to "march in lockstep to Austin" to ask legislators to rethink the way witness identification works in Texas.
Dupree, who is 51 now but was 21 when he was incarcerated in 1980 after a fudged eyewitness lineup resulted in faulty eyewitness identification, smiled broadly during the proceedings but spoke of "mixed emotions" about his official declaration of innocence. He's been out on parole since July of last year and married his wife the day he was released.
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Still, he told reporters, "Words really can't make up for what I lost." While serving time, he said, "it was only by the grace of God that I was able to sustain."