A Georgia judge has dropped the double homicide charges against a man who was wrongfully convicted for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain in 1985, CNN reports.
Dennis Perry, 59, was arrested in 2000 after the Camden County Sheriff’s Office reopened the case two years prior. An informant, who had been paid $12,000 for their testimony after seeking a $25,000 reward, identified Perry as the main suspect. This circumstance wasn’t disclosed to Perry’s attorneys. “I was cleared by the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) in 1988, only to find out that I was the only suspect they focused on in 1999; all from a statement from one person that had known mental issues and was paid $12,000 for their testimony,” Perry said, per WJAX-TV.
On March 11, 1985, the Swains attended Bible study at Rising Daughter Baptist Church. A woman was walking out of the church before 9 p.m. when she spoke with a man in the church’s vestibule who asked to speak with Harold. After she left, witnesses said they heard a “scuffle” followed by four gunshots. Thelma ran over to the scene to find out what happened, and was shot once by the same person. By the time other attendees arrived, the suspect was gone.
Prior to the case going cold, the initial investigation believed that a pair of glasses belonged to the killer. A DNA test was conducted on the hairs lodged in the hinges, and found that they didn’t belong Perry, who was still convicted of the crime, based on what the Georgia Innocence Project believes to be circumstantial and character evidence. Perry struck a deal where he waived his right to file an appeal, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
In February 2020, private investigators for Perry obtained a hair sample from the mother of a suspect who had been implicated, but never charged in the initial case. The GBI chose to reopen his case after a DNA match was discovered with her hair sample and the hairs in the glasses found at the scene. The break in the case is partially attributed to the Undisclosed podcast, which spotlighted errors in his conviction.
While prosecutors can re-try Perry, they have declined to do so. “There are times when seeking justice means righting a wrong,” District Attorney Keith Higgins said. “While this case was prosecuted prior to my administration, the new evidence indicates that someone else murdered Harold and Thelma Swain.”