BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A 59-year-old man jailed for more than 20 years on charges of killing a Camden County couple walked free on Monday afternoon, a year after his conviction was overturned.

Dennis Perry was accused of murdering Harold and Thelma Swain in 1985 in a church in Waverly, Georgia. Perry was arrested for the murders in 2000 and convicted in 2003.

Last year, after new DNA evidence was presented on the case, Perry’s attorneys filed for a new trial. In July 2020, a judge granted the retrial motion and Perry was released from prison at his own discretion.

On Monday, District Attorney Keith Higgins in the Glynn County Superior Court, after his review of the case and consultation with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said Perry should not be tried again and Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett Sr. agreed to.

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Perry turned to the court and said he hoped the real killer is found and the victims’ families get justice in the case.

“I pray for Harold and Thelma Swain every day,” Perry said.

After the hearing, the Georgia Innocence Project released Perry’s statement about the ordeal.

“It took a long time, but I never gave up,” said Perry. “I knew that someday someone else would see the truth, and I’m so grateful to the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding for bringing the truth to light. This indictment has hung over my head for over 20 years and it is a great relief to finally not have to fear being charged with this terrible matter. “

Higgins said the victims’ families had been consulted prior to a decision to dismiss the charges.

“There are times when seeking justice means redressing an injustice,” Higgins said in a statement released immediately after the ruling. “Although this case was prosecuted prior to my tenure, the new evidence suggests that someone else murdered Harold and Thelma Swain. Mr. Perry is a free man now and since July 2020. We will continue to examine all of the evidence – new and old – in the case as we determine what the next step in this investigation will be. “

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Meanwhile, GBI investigators have reopened the Swain murder case. They exhumed Harold Swain’s body last year, but there has been no update on the case since.

Harold and Thelma Swain were shot dead on March 11, 1985 at Rising Daughter Baptist Church in northern Camden County. (WJXT Archives / Law Enforcement Photos)

DNA evidence that came to light last year indicates that Perry might have been acquitted if that evidence had been available during his 2003 trial for the March 11, 1985 murders. Perry was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and was imprisoned in March 2003.

Perry’s conviction might never have been overturned without the Georgia Innocence Project.

In March 2020, Georgia Innocence Project investigators presented DNA from a hair sample voluntarily given to Gladys Sparre, mother of Erik Sparre, a one-time suspect in the case. Erik Sparre’s hair matched the hair in glasses found just inches from the Swain’s bodies.

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Most importantly, the DNA evidence from the hair sample excluded Perry.

Perry’s alibi also revealed that it was virtually impossible to be in Camden County at the time of the crime. Perry worked in the greater Atlanta area and didn’t leave his job until after 5:30 p.m. The shootings took place at 8:40 p.m.

A month after the new evidence was presented, Perry’s attorneys filed an extraordinary motion for retrial in light of this newly discovered DNA evidence. In July 2020, a judge granted the retrial motion, and Perry has been released from prison at his own discretion since July 2020.

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