Explore‘The Imperfect Alibi’: Our award-winning special report on the case

The hearing, which is scheduled for Monday 2 p.m. in Braunschweig, will be considered the latest development in a long and painful case.

Harold and Thelma Swain, a loved one in their 1960s, were shot dead in the vestibule of the Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Camden County. On March 11, 1985, a white man showed up at a Monday night Bible study at the historic Black Church and asked to speak with Harold Swain.

Swain went to speak to the man at the front door. Moments later, in the sanctuary, the parishioners heard a fight, then gunfire. Thelma Swain went to her husband’s aid, but fell with him, both shot in the chest.

Perry was arrested in 2000 after a cold case investigation and trial in which the state violated his rights by withholding information from his lawyers. Prosecutors did not announce that the lead witness against Perry would receive a reward of $ 12,000 for testifying. The woman, who was the mother of Perry’s ex-girlfriend, claimed that Perry casually told her that he was planning to kill Harold Swain. The original investigators into the murders had established in 1988 that Perry had a strong alibi.

The GBI resumed the investigation into the Swains murders in May 2020 at the request of then District Attorney Jackie Johnson. She had learned six weeks earlier that DNA linked former suspect Erik Sparre to glasses found just inches from the bodies of the victims in the church. Johnson and her assistant prosecutors – including John B. Johnson III, who sent Perry to jail – fought to keep Perry incarcerated despite the DNA.

Perry’s attorneys at the Georgia Innocence Project and the law firm King & Spalding decided to run the DNA test after learning that coverage by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Sparre’s alibi for the night of the murder could not be true. That alibi had led investigators to drop him as a suspect in 1986, despite his ex-wife’s family contacting authorities to say he bragged about killing the Swains while dealing with a racist slur the couple related.

Sparre, 57, from Brantley County, has not been charged and says he is innocent. The GBI investigation continues.


After coverage in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found problems with a previous suspect’s alibi, attorneys representing Dennis Perry, the man convicted of double homicide, decided to do a DNA test. The DNA found at the crime scene matched that of the old suspect, lawyers said. The GBI has resumed the murder investigation and formed a task force. On July 17, 2020, the DNA results caused a judge to overturn Perry’s conviction. Perry was released on loan on July 23.


“The Imperfect Alibi” is an Emmy-winning criminal documentary from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution based on the investigative work of Joshua Sharpe. See it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHILRPczvbQ