Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Cornelius Dupree Freed as Innocent Man after 30 Years in Texas Jail: The Unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony

This week, a fifty-one (51) year old man walked out of a Texas courtroom a free man, after serving over 30 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Cornelius Dupree was officially exonerated on Tuesday by Dallas County Judge Don Adams with the simple sentence from the bench, "you're free to go."

What Got Dupree Behind Bars

Mr. Dupree was arrested in 1979 on rape and abduction charges for a sexual assault involving two men that happened on IH30 near Dolphin Road, where a man and woman were forcibly taken from a liquor store and the woman later raped. Dupree and his pal, Anthony Massingill, 49, were going to a party when the cops stopped them because the police thought these two guys matched the description given in another rape case.

Both victims would later give eyewitness testimony that Dupree and his friend were the perpetrators of the crime. And yes, Mr. Dupree is African American.

What Got Dupree Released

DNA cleared Mr. Dupree. Through the efforts of the Innocence Project and with the support of local D.A. Craig Watkins, DNA testing was done on old evidence in the case, which resulted in scientific proof that Dupree was not guilty.

According to the Innocence Project, Mr. Dupree is third in line for the dubious record of having spent time behind bars before being exonerated: only 2 men in the United States spent more time in jail than he did before being proven innocent via DNA testing. In Texas, Dupree is the 41st individual to be freed based on DNA evidence since 2001.

Lesson Learned, Again: Eyewitness Testimony Isn't Reliable

Once again, we have another example of how eyewitness testimony should not be considered as quality evidence in any case -- but particular the key evidence used to put an individual behind bars.

Photo lineups and the like are not good tools toward finding the truth, regardless of how they appear on Law And Order (pick your version). People just don't remember things accurately. Emotions get in the way. Victims want to catch the perpetrator and are understandably influenced to a rush to judgment. Police officers, however innocently, can suggest who to pick in a lineup and many victims are scewed to pleasing the police, however unconcious that predisposition may be.

When are we going to learn in this country that eyewitness testimony isn't trustworthy?

One last thing: As for Mr. Dupree's friend that day back in 1979, Mr. Massingill has already been cleared in the present case via DNA testing; however, he is not free today. Massingill is still incarcerated, and serving a life sentence, based on another crime.  Let's hope that this conviction was based on more than finger-pointing.