DALLAS — A Texas man declared innocent Tuesday after 30 years in prison had at least two chances to make parole and be set free — if he would admit he was a sex offender.
But Cornelius Dupree Jr. refused, doggedly maintaining his innocence in a 1979 rape and robbery, in the process serving more time for a crime he didn't commit than any other Texas inmate exonerated by DNA evidence.
"Whatever your truth is, you have to stick with it," Dupree, 51, said Tuesday, minutes after a Dallas judge overturned his conviction.
Nationally, only two others exonerated by DNA evidence spent more time in prison, according to the Innocence Project, a New York legal center that specializes in wrongful conviction cases and represented Dupree. James Bain was wrongly imprisoned for 35 years in Florida, and Lawrence McKinney spent more than 31 years in a Tennessee prison.
Dupree was sentenced to 75 years in 1980 in the rape and robbery of a 26-year-old Dallas woman a year earlier. He was released in July and lived under house arrest until October. About a week after his release, DNA test results came back proving his innocence in the sexual assault.
"It's a joy to be free again," Dupree said.
Under Texas compensation laws for the wrongly imprisoned, Dupree is eligible for $80,000 for each year he was behind bars, plus a lifetime annuity. He could receive $2.4 million in a lump sum that is not subject to federal income tax.
Texas has freed 41 wrongly convicted inmates through DNA since 2001 — more than any other state.
Dallas County's record of DNA exonerations — Dupree is No. 21 — is unmatched nationally because the county crime lab maintains biological evidence decades after a conviction, leaving samples available to test. In addition, Watkins, the DA, 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.
One of Dupree's lawyers, Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck has pointed out that eyewitness misidentification — the most common cause of wrongful convictions — was the key factor that sent Dupree to prison. Of the 21 DNA exonerations in Dallas County, all but one involved faulty eyewitness identification, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Not in attendance Tuesday was Dupree's accused accomplice, Anthony Massingill, who was convicted in the same case and sentenced to life in prison on another sexual assault.
The same DNA testing that cleared Dupree also cleared Massingill. He says he is innocent, but remains behind bars while authorities test DNA in the second case.