Newly uncovered DNA evidence from hair sample shows that 59-year-old Dennis A. Perry “may have been acquitted if this evidence had been available” at his trial in 2003 for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain in Georgia, according to a statement from Glynn. County District Attorney Keith Higgins.
Perry, formerly of Camden County, Georgia, received two consecutive life sentences following his arrest in 2000. His subsequent conviction was overturned in July and Higgins’ office said on Monday prosecutors would not retry him.
“It took a long time, but I never gave up,” Perry said in a press release Monday. “I knew someone else would see the truth eventually, and I am very grateful to the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding [law firm] to bring out the truth. This indictment has passed me for over 20 years, and it’s such a relief not to have to worry about being accused of this horrible thing anymore. “
DNA evidence involves a pair of glasses found at the crime scene in 1985, according to the press release. Investigators discovered 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 Brantley County woman who is the mother of a man implicated, but not charged, in the Swain murders of 1985, the statement said. district attorney’s press release. Her hair sample was then examined by the same lab that performed the DNA testing on the hair found in the glasses in 2001 and those profiles match, 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 prior to Perry’s 2003 test and excluded him as a possible hair contributor; however, he was found guilty based on circumstantial evidence at trial, the statement said.
On the night of their murders, the Swains were studying the Bible at Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Waverly, according to a press release from the Georgia Innocence Project.
Before 9 p.m., a participant left the meeting and found a man inside the hall of the church as she was leaving who asked to speak to Harold Swain, 66. She returned inside the prayer meeting to pick it up and left the church, Higgins press release mentioned. Witnesses said they heard a “fight” followed by four shots.
Thelma, 63, heard the gunshots and ran into the hallway – that’s when the killer shot her once. By the time the other meeting participants ran to the back of the church, the killer was gone.
The case quickly turned cold, according to the Higgins statement, but it was reopened by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office in 1998, according to a statement from the Georgia Innocence Project.
Within a week, authorities identified Perry as the prime suspect based primarily on the testimony of an informant who wanted a reward of $ 25,000 and was ultimately paid $ 12,000 in exchange for a testimony – something that didn’t was never disclosed to Perry’s attorneys, according to the Georgia Innocence Project statement. .
Higgins said he consulted with the GBI and the victim’s family, and both agreed with his decision not to prosecute Perry.
“There are times when seeking justice means righting a wrong,” said Higgins, who took office on Jan. 1. “While this case was pursued prior to my administration, new evidence indicates that someone else murdered Harold and Thelma Swain. Mr. Perry is now, and has been since July 2020, a free man. We will continue to do so. review all of the evidence in the case – new and old – as we determine what the next step in this investigation will be. “
Rebuild, reconnect and adjust from scratch
Since his release from prison, Perry has been spending time at home with his wife, Brenda, and reconnecting with friends and family, trying to recover and readjust to this new chapter in his life, according to the Georgia Innocence Project release. .
The federal standard for compensating wrongly convicted persons is at least $ 50,000 per year of incarceration, 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 Project Innocence.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess and Chenelle Terry contributed to this report.