Recently discovered DNA evidence from a hair sample shows that Dennis A. Perry, 59, “might have been acquitted if the evidence had been available” during his 2003 trial for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain in Georgia, according to a press release from Glynn County Attorney Keith Higgins.
Perry, formerly of Camden County, Georgia, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences after his arrest in 2000. His subsequent conviction was overturned in July, and Higgins’ office announced Monday that prosecutors will not try him again.
“It took a long time, but I never gave up,” Perry said in a news release Monday. “I knew eventually someone else would see the truth, and I’m so grateful for the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding. [law firm] to bring the truth to light. This accusation has hung over my head for over 20 years and it is such a relief that I finally do not have to worry about being accused of this horrible thing. “
The DNA evidence involves a pair of glasses found at the crime scene in 1985, according to the press release. Investigators found that the glasses had two hairs belonging to the killer stuck in the hinges.
In February 2020, private investigators working for Perry were able to obtain a hair sample from a woman in Brantley County who is the mother of a man implicated, but not charged, in the men in Swain in 1985, according to the district attorney’s Press release. Her hair sample was then examined by the same laboratory that performed the DNA test on the hair found in the glasses in 2001, and these profiles matched, prompting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen the case in light of the new evidence.
Mitochondrial DNA testing was performed using these hair samples before Perry’s 2003 trial and ruled him out as a possible contributor of the hairs; however, he was convicted using lengthy evidence during the trial, the release said.
On the night of their murder, the Swedes were studying the Bible at Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Waverly, according to a press release from the Georgia Innocence Project.
Before 21 a participant left the meeting and found a man inside the church hallway as she left, asking to speak with Harold Swain, 66. She went back inside the prayer meeting to pick him up and left the church, Higgins’ press release said. Witnesses said they heard a “quarrel” followed by four shots.
Thelma, 63, heard the shots and ran to the hallway – that was when the killer shot her once. When the other meeting participants ran to the back of the church, the killer was gone.
The case quickly cooled, Higgins’ release said, but it was reopened by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office in 1998, according to a release from the Georgia Innocence Project.
Within a week, authorities identified Perry as the main suspect based primarily on the testimony of an informant who wanted a $ 25,000 reward and was eventually paid $ 12,000 in exchange for testimony – something that was never revealed to Perry’s lawyers, the release said. from the Georgia Innocence Project.
Higgins said he consulted GBI and the victim’s family, and both agreed on his decision not to prosecute Perry.
“There are times when the search for justice means correcting a wrong,” said Higgins, who took office on Jan. 1. “While this case was being prosecuted before my administration, the new evidence shows that another murdered Harold and Thelma Swain. Mr Perry is now and has been a free man since July 2020. We will continue to investigate all evidence in the case – new and old – when we find out what the next step will be in this study. “
Reconstruction, connection and adjustment from scratch
Since his release from prison, Perry has spent time at home with his wife, Brenda, reconnecting with friends and family and trying to recover and adapt to this new chapter of his life, the Georgia Innocence Project said in a statement.
The federal standard for compensating those wrongfully convicted is at least $ 50,000 per year. Years of imprisonment plus an additional amount for each year spent on death row. Of the 36 states with compensation laws, nine offer more than $ 50,000 a year – including Washington, which offers $ 200,000 a year, according to the Innocence Project.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess and Chenelle Terry contributed to this report.