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Dupree’s exoneration proves need for DNA testing

Everything is bigger in Texas 8212; even the flaws of the criminal justice system.

Of course, there are problems throughout every state’s criminal justice system, but nowhere are they more obvious, heinous or numerous than in the state of Texas.

Cornelius Dupree Jr., of Dallas, was charged with aggravated robbery after being identified in a police lineup in 1979. Court documents also said he raped one of the victims, but prosecutors did not pursue rape charges. He was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Three times, Dupree appealed his conviction, steadfastly claiming his innocence. Nonetheless, the court maintained its ruling.

In 2008, Dupree’s case was taken up by the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to prove the innocence of wrongfully convicted people through the use of genetic testing. Now in 2011, roughly 30 years after his incarceration, Dupree is a free and innocent man, thanks to a simple DNA test. Sadly, his wrongful conviction is not that uncommon.

“I think that could have happened to anyone,” Dupree told CNN. “The system needs to be corrected somehow.”

He’s right on both counts, particularly in his reference to the “system” 8212; Dallas’ criminal justice system.

Texas has the highest number of DNA-based exonerations of all states: a record 21 wrongful convictions in Dallas alone, and 20 more in the rest of the state, since 2001.

According to the Innocence Project, Texas is notorious for its use of “junk science,” or erroneous sources of evidence, such as false autopsies, dog scent lineups and inaccurate fiber evaluations.

Moreover, misidentification is considered to be the other most common form of false evidence. Of the 41 aforementioned wrongful convictions, 75 percent are said to have been based on this false evidence.

Included in that 75 percent was Dupree, who spent the majority of his adult life in jail, watching 30 years worth of news, culture, politics, friendships and technology pass him by, all due to mistaken identity.

Yet he is lucky. Consider Timothy Cole, a Texas Tech student who was convicted of rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1986, where he later died. Shortly after his death in 1999, DNA evidence proved he was innocent, and Cole remains the first and only posthumously exonerated person in Texas.

Unfortunately, there are too many examples of this marred justice; the list goes on and on.

There are ways as Dupree advocated, to “fix the system.”

Reforms 8212; such as restructuring the lineup identification system, granting access to additional DNA testing, recording statements from eyewitnesses and more 8212; are all advocated by the Innocence Project, which has freed more than 250 people, 17 of whom were sentenced to death.

As a result of the recent influx of exonerated individuals, many lawyers and legislators are calling for a complete re-examination of all major cases in Texas courts in the past 40 years. Maybe these actions can correct another tragic case, like that of Cornelius Dupree Jr.

Justice can never be 100 percent accurate. Even with these reforms, the criminal justice system would still be imperfect. But these regulations would be Texas-sized improvements, which are sorely needed.

Emily Atteberry is a freshman political science and journalism double major from Olathe, Kansas.

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