Texas man exonerated after decades in jail

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SHERMAN, TX - A man who served three decades in prison for rape and robbery has had his conviction overturned, and today the Sherman Rotary Club heard from the innocence project about his case.

Today a Dallas court formally cleared 51-year old Cornelius Dupree Jr. of a rape and robbery conviction.

Dupree served more time in prison in Texas than anyone else who was later exonerated based on DNA evidence.

Cornelius Dupree's life was forever changed in 1979 when a rape victim identified him as her attacker.

Dupree made parole in 2010. One week later, DNA evidence proved he never should have been in jail in the first place.

Natalie Roetzel with the Innocence project spoke about Dupree's plight at the Rotary Club in Sherman today.

"It's exciting, obviously, because he has been able to clear his name and win his freedom, but it's also exciting because this is the first time we've seen DNA evidence that was preserved for this length of time," said Roetzel.

She says the case paves the way for others who face wrongful convictions.

"It's great news, because now we can go back and look at older cases where we initially didn't think there was a chance of ever proving a defendants’ innocence," Roetzel said.

She also says it's a shocking reminder that flaws in the justice system need to be addressed this legislative session.

"I think this highlights the need for eyewitness identification reform, and hopefully it will send a signal to the legislature that this year is the year that we need to get it done," Roetzel said.

James Fry is the former assistant district attorney in Dallas. Three years ago, DNA evidence led to the exoneration of a man he prosecuted in the 80’s for aggravated rape.

"As somebody who has been involved in the criminal justice system in many different ways for 30 years, that shook me to the core," said Fry.

Charles Chatman, the man who was falsely accused, was up for parole three times, and three times he was denied.

"Each time they asked him to express remorse for what he had done, and he said, I can't because I didn't do anything," said Fry.

Finally in 2008, Natalie Roetzel and the Innocence Project were able to clear his name.

"It's time that maybe we start listening to some of these people who say, ‘I didn't do it,’ and go back and see whether or not we've got the right people," Fry said.

In the coming months, the Texas Legislature is expected to discuss an eye witness reform bill, as well as bills to help prevent false confessions.

According to the Timothy Cole Compensation Act, Dupree is entitled to $80 thousand for every year he spent in Jail.

That adds up to 2-point-4 million dollars. It will be supplemented with a lifetime annuity.

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