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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It's a joy to be free again: Those words from 51-year-old Cornelius Dupree Jr. today after being officially exonerated in a Dallas courtroom.

Dupree spent 30 years wrongfully imprisoned in connection with a rape and robbery case. That means he served more time than any other Texas prisoner exonerated by DNA evidence. NPRs Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN: For the last five years, the city of Dallas has watched a parade of men, nearly all them black, march out of the state prison system after decades of life wasted. Cornelius Dupree is the 21st just from Dallas. Thats more than all but two states.

Barry Scheck and his staff at The Innocence Project have been behind many of these exonerations, including Dupree, who sat next to Scheck in the car as they drove away.

Mr. BARRY SCHECK (The Innocence Project): So it's quite an extraordinary case, and it's a great tribute to Cornelius and his spirit that he was able to, you know, fight this long and this hard to win his freedom.

GOODWYN: Dallas has so many exonerations not because it was more egregiously unjust than other counties, but because unlike other jurisdictions, Dallas County kept the DNA evidence refrigerated and stored for decades. Thats whats saved these men.

What convicted them was erroneous eyewitness testimony. Out of the 21 men whove been exonerated in Dallas, 20 were convicted on the strength of the victims wrong, as it turns out, identification.

That in turn has pointed the finger at the police and prosecutors, who are now themselves accused of pushing rape victims to make cases. Barry Scheck says thats what happened in Duprees case, too.

Mr. SCHECK: The kinds of eyewitness procedures that were used in his case were ridiculous, and they're the reason that he was wrongfully convicted.

GOODWYN: Another one of the reasons these exonerations are happening in Dallas is because Dallas elected Craig Watkins, Texass first black district attorney.

Before becoming DA, Watkins was a defense attorney who says he saw firsthand how the county sometimes railroaded poor black men. Watkins' willingness to work with the Innocence Project to has not made him popular with many of his colleagues and some lawmakers in Austin.

Mr. CRAIG WATKINS (District Attorney, Dallas County, Texas): Its been proven that the system needs to be fixed, and we know, actually, where we can fix it. How about those people that are in positions of power and influence getting on board?

GOODWYN: For many of these men the anger was taken out of them long ago. Thirty of years of telling people youre innocent to no avail affects a man.

Cornelius Dupree wasnt let out of Texas prison because he was innocent; he was finally paroled after serving 30 years in July. Dupree says hes not angry, but he does harbor some resentment.

Mr. CORNELIUS DUPREE: But I do have some ill feelings, you know, in terms of the way the system went. You know, I had - it took so long to finally bring this to light. You know, it was so many losses, thats what hurts me the most.

GOODWYN: Cornelius Dupree says he just wants to live quietly now and try to enjoy his life.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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