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Freed at last


From SF Gate:

DNA clears Texas man who spent 30 years in prison

Cornelius Dupree Jr., 51, was paroled out of prison in July after 30 years behind bars for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. DNA test results that came back 10 days after his release excluded him as the person who raped and robbed a Dallas woman in 1979.

[…]

Dupree was charged in 1979 with raping and robbing a 26-year-old woman and sentenced in 1980 to 75 years in prison for aggravated robbery. He was never tried on the rape charge.

According to court documents, a 26-year-old woman and her male companion stopped at a Dallas liquor store in November 1979 to buy cigarettes and use a payphone. As they returned to their car, two men, at least one of whom was armed, forced their way into the vehicle and ordered them to drive. They also demanded money from the two victims.

The men eventually ordered the car to the side of the road and forced the male driver out of the car. The woman attempted to flee but was pulled back inside.

The perpetrators drove the woman to a nearby park, where they raped her at gunpoint. They debated killing her but eventually let her live, keeping her rabbit-fur coat and her driver’s license and warning her they would kill her if she reported the assault to police. The victim ran to the nearest highway and collapsed unconscious by the side of the road, where she was discovered.

About five days later, two men whose descriptions did not match Dupree tried to sell the rabbit-fur coat at a grocery store two miles from the liquor store, according to court documents. The car stolen from the victims was found abandoned in the parking lot.

Dupree and Massingill were arrested in December because they looked similar to two suspects being sought in another sexual assault and robbery. The 26-year-old woman picked both men out of a photo array, but her male companion did not identify either defendant in the same photo array.

This is one reason I oppose the death penalty. New evidence can free the wrongly imprisoned but it can’t bring the executed back to life.

DNA is great evidence, but it’s only available in a limited number of cases besides those involving sexual assaults. The flaws revealed in our criminal justice system however, exist in every type of case.

Unlike what you see in the CSI shows and its progeny, most police departments don’t have highly trained crime scene technicians and state of the art labs. Not only is some evidence lost or contaminated, some is never collected. Even the best cops make mistakes.

One of the most common factors in convictions overturned by DNA evidence has been wrongful eyewitness identification. Someone on another blog recently argued that was proof that women lie about rape but I disagree. It’s only proof that they picked the wrong guy(s) as the perpetrator(s.)

When you look at the number of people exonerated by DNA, you have to wonder how many more innocent people are behind bars because there is no DNA evidence to free them?


“It’s what we might expect in Afghanistan, not in the United States.”

DNA under microscope

DNA under microscope

That is how Nicholas Kristof ended his column yesterday about the low priority law enforcment has been putting on testing for DNA in open rape cases. Kristof writes:

When a woman reports a rape, her body is a crime scene. She is typically asked to undress over a large sheet of white paper to collect hairs or fibers, and then her body is examined with an ultraviolet light, photographed and thoroughly swabbed for the rapist’s DNA.

It’s a grueling and invasive process that can last four to six hours and produces a “rape kit” — which, it turns out, often sits around for months or years, unopened and untested.

Stunningly often, the rape kit isn’t tested at all because it’s not deemed a priority. If it is tested, this happens at such a lackadaisical pace that it may be a year or more before there are results (if expedited, results are technically possible in a week).

I was shocked to read that rape kits are not routinely and promptly processed so that perpetrators’ DNA can be checked against DNA databases, although I probably shouldn’t have been. This is just another sign of the low value put on women’s lives in American culture. But thanks to a March 31, 2009 report from Human Rights Watch on the backlog of unprocessed rape kids in Los Angeles County (linked in the Kristof op-ed), this outrageous situation is getting some much needed attention in the media. Perhaps some other police departments can be shamed into changing their attitudes toward investigating rapes and tracking down the perpetrators. Continue reading