Sen. Ellis says Texas is in dire need of criminal justice reform

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August 24, 2011 - Texas Senator Rodney Ellis said criminal justice reform is necessary for society to maintain its faith in our legal system at today’s luncheon hosted by the University of Houston Law Center celebrating the publication of American Justice in the Age of Innocence, a book compiled by University of Houston Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson and her students.

 “When innocent people are wrongly punished, they suffer, their families suffer, and society suffers,” Ellis said. This incredible book has shone a spotlight on the issue and will undoubtedly help advance the legal reform agenda.”

American Justice in the Age of Innocence examines wrongful convictions and the most common causes behind breakdowns in the legal system. The book is co-edited by Thompson and two of her top students, Hillary K. Valderrama and Jennifer L. Hopgood.  Thompson’s students contributed to the book by writing chapters on specific topics, such as eyewitness identifications and false confessions.

Cornelius Dupree Jr., who served 30 of a 75-year sentence for a crime he did not commit, was a special guest at the luncheon.

“Dupree was declared innocent after prosecutors cleared him of the crime once a test determined his DNA profile did not match the evidence from the case,” Thompson said. “He spent more time in prison in the state than any other inmate who had been exonerated by DNA evidence.”

“It (the book) is great to have, and it will bring a lot of attention to some major problems,” Dupree said. “When I see so many people working toward making change, it makes me feel like my story can be used for something good.”

Ellis reiterated that there is no way to compensate Dupree for the thirty years he spent in prison, and he cautioned that there is much work to be done in Austin.

“We’ve come a long way in Texas, but we have a lot more to do,” Ellis said. “We have plans to push for the recording of interrogations and to address prosecutor misconduct. We also need to put more effort into creating public defender offices.  It’s a daunting challenge to improve our law and order system, but we will get there.”

Ellis announced that he will host a book signing for Thompson and the student authors in the State Capitol on October 27 in conjunction with a criminal justice workshop being held that day. 

Cornelius Dupree Jr., who served 30 of a 75-year sentence for a crime he did not commit, was a special guest at the luncheon.

Cornelius Dupree Jr., who served 30 years of a 75-year sentence for a crime he did not commit, was a special guest at the luncheon.

Jennifer Hopgood, left, Prof. Sandra Guerra Thompson, Texas Senator Rodney Ellis, Cornelius Dupree Jr., Matthew Gilliam, and Tanya Broholm celebrate the release of American Justice in the Age of Innocence at the University of Houston Law Center.

Jennifer Hopgood, left, Prof. Sandra Guerra Thompson, Texas Senator Rodney Ellis, Cornelius Dupree Jr., Matthew Gilliam, and Tanya Broholm celebrate the release of American Justice in the Age of Innocence at the University of Houston Law Center.

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