In recent years, the advancement of forensic DNA testing and evidence has helped overturn false convictions of innocent people wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.
A man from Dallas spent more than 30 years of his life behind bars for a rape and robbery he didn’t commit. For decades, his pleas of innocence had been ignored, but with the help of an unexpected source, his chances of life outside of prison seemed much more possible…
On November 23, 1979, a young couple stopped at a Dallas liquor store to buy cigarettes. The 26-year old female stayed outside while her male friend entered the store. As she used a nearby pay phone, she noticed two African-American men approaching the pay phone next to her.
A Bad Vibe
When the woman finished her phone call, she turned around and noticed that the men were no longer there. Suspicious and uncomfortable, she rushed towards the car, but instead of finding her male companion, she would discover a horrifying scene…
A Horrifying Scene
Her male companion was held at gunpoint by one of the men and forced into the driver’s seat as the gunman climbed into the backseat. The second gunman grabbed the woman by her arm and threw her into the backseat, then proceeded to sit next to her. One of the men warned the pair to keep their mouths shut or else they would blow their brains out.
Take Our Money
The male was then ordered to drive on the highway. The pair both insisted that they would give the perpetrators all their belongings, including the car, but to leave them unharmed. But, sadly, robbery was not the only thing on their mind.
A Failed Escape
After driving on the highway for a few minutes, but what seemed like all eternity for the fearful pair, the perpetrators commanded the male victim to pull off the highway and exit the vehicle. At that frightening moment, the woman knew this would be her chance to escape, but as she attempted to run away, one of the men pulled her from the hair back into the vehicle.
One of the men drove to a nearby park, while the other held a gun to the woman’s head, threatening again to blow her brains out if she attempted to escape or scream. At this point, the terrified woman knew what the men really wanted. She begged and pleaded with them to take her belongings, but to leave her alone. This only angered the men into a complete rage, beating her repeatedly all over the body for her verbal attempts to stop them.
A Savage Rape
They parked the vehicle in a remote parking lot and took turns raping the woman as the other one held her at gunpoint. After they had finished brutally raping the woman, they pushed her lifeless body to the ground, telling her she could leave, but if she notified the police, they would find her and kill her. Before they drove away, one of the cowards exited the car and demanded the woman to take off her rabbit fur coat.
A Passing Patrol Car
As the men drove away, the woman fled to the closest road and collapsed unconscious on the shoulder. A passing patrol car spotted her and brought her to meet her husband at the police station.
A Week Later
Exactly one week after the attack, friends, Cornelius and Anthony were walking to a party when they were randomly stopped by police. Police officers stopped and frisked the two men claiming they looked similar to suspects in a separate sexual assault case. Both men were searched and although Cornelius was unarmed, police recovered a handgun from Anthony that gave them cause to place the two men under arrest.
A Photo Lineup
Both Cornelius and Anthony were taken into police custody and their photos were submitted for an identification lineup. The male victim did not identify both men in the photo array, insisting that these men were not the real perpetrators. On the other hand, the female victim had a completely different conclusion.
Never Forget Their Faces
Only a week after being savagely raped and in a state of shock, the woman quickly picked both Cornelius and Anthony when presented with the same photos. With the entire ordeal still fresh on her mind, the woman insisted she would never forget the faces of the men who had destroyed her life.
A Faulty Investigation
The police took the woman’s word and completely disregarded the male victim’s persistence that none of the men in the lineup had been the actual perpetrators. The police also failed terribly in their investigation by also disregarded photo lineup results of two women who worked at the store where the perpetrators tried to sell the fur coat. Both women told the police they were 100 percent certain that the perpetrators were not the men in the photo lineup.
We Are Innocent
During a 12-hour police interview, despite pressure and various tactics by the investigators, Anthony and Cornelius repeatedly maintained their innocence. Even after their alibis had checked out, police still forcefully pursued the pair without searching for any other possible leads. The police were dealing with a shaken community breathing down their neck. They felt pressured to find the perpetrators and throw them in jail as quickly as possible, even if it meant that they were innocent…
Guilty From Faulty Evidence
Based on intangible evidence from their investigation, the police charged Cornelius Dupree and Anthony Massingill with the aggravated rape and robbery of the male and female victims. During the trial, despite the female victim’s positive identification of the two men, she repeatedly misidentified Anthony as Cornelius while both men were present in the courtroom. This inconsistency did not leave any doubts among the prosecutor, defense attorney, nor the judge. This unreliable factor had been the reason Anthony and Cornelius would eventually be found guilty.
A Victim Of The System
On April 3, 1980, when the judge handed down the sentence of 75 years in prison for aggravated robbery, Cornelius described the emotion of hearing the sentence as a “nightmare.” Prior to the incident, he had a fond impression of police officers and the legal system influenced by his liking of the Perry Mason show. That opinion changed when Cornelius became a victim of the system.
Refused To Plead Guilty
Police offered Cornelius parole if he participated in a sex offender rehabilitation program, but Cornelius refused. He would rather spend his entire life in prison than to plead guilty to a crime he had not committed. Cornelius was a soft-spoken, hard-working man that claimed he was the type that couldn’t kill a bug, let alone attack a human being.
After the verdict had been handed down to the pair, Cornelius felt that the justice system had let him down. “They gave me life…It wasn’t a robbery they said we had done. They said it was a robbery and rape…I didn’t believe it. I mean, I didn’t think that I was going to be found guilty for something I didn’t do…I was sad, hurt, and disappointed.”
On three separate occasions, Cornelius attempted to appeal but had been denied each time. After the third time, Cornelius decided it was time to contact The Innocence Project, a New York legal center that specializes in wrongful conviction cases. The Innocent Project submitted DNA samples of both Anthony and Cornelius. After a few weeks, the results from the lab work shocked the nation.
DNA Did Not Match
After forensic scientists compared the semen found in the female victim’s clothing from 30 years ago to the DNA samples provided by the two defendants, they were able to conclusively exclude them as possible sources. The District Attorney’s Office agreed that the DNA evidence undoubtedly had proven that Cornelius was innocent.
A Hopeful Future
After spending thirty years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit, Cornelius was finally released as a free man. A day after his release, he married his fiancee, Selma. The couple met two decades ago while he was in prison. Also, under Texas compensation laws for the wrongly imprisoned, Cornelius 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.
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