After Two Decades and a D.N.A. Test, Charges Are Dropped in Georgia Killings

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Convicted of sidesplitting a mates successful 1985, Dennis Perry spent 20 years successful situation earlier hairsbreadth samples helped acceptable him free. Now, the homicide charges against him person been dismissed.

Dennis Perry, center, was released from situation  past  year. This week, the charges against him were dropped.
Credit...Stephen B. Morton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

July 23, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Last year, astir 2 decades aft Dennis Perry was convicted of fatally shooting 2 radical successful the vestibule of a tiny religion successful Camden County, Ga., 2 hairsbreadth samples — collected 35 years isolated — tipped the scales successful his favor.

By then, Mr. Perry’s lawsuit had achieved immoderate level of notoriety. It was covered successful paper articles and a podcast, and connected the tv amusement “Unsolved Mysteries.” In July 2020, a justice overturned his condemnation connected 2 counts of homicide, and helium was released aft 2 decades successful prison.

But the charges remained. “They inactive had the indictment implicit my head,” Mr. Perry said successful an interrogation connected Wednesday. “It hung implicit my caput for a full year. We couldn’t recognize wherefore it was taking truthful long.”

On Monday, Chief Judge Stephen G. Scarlett Sr., of the Glynn County Superior Court, granted a question by Keith Higgins, the territory lawyer for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, to disregard the charges against Mr. Perry, 59. Now, the lawsuit against him is implicit for good.

“There are times erstwhile seeking justness means righting a wrong,” Mr. Higgins said successful a statement. “While this lawsuit was prosecuted anterior to my administration, the caller grounds indicates that idiosyncratic other murdered Harold and Thelma Swain.”

The homicide lawsuit isn’t over. No 1 other has been convicted of sidesplitting Harold Swain, 66, and Thelma Swain, 63, a joined mates who were changeable aft a Bible survey league astatine the Rising Daughter Baptist Church successful Waverly, Ga., successful 1985.

The transgression was partially witnessed by immoderate women who were astatine the religion that evening. The Swains, a Black couple, were leaders of the congregation — helium was a deacon — and well-known successful their community. They were killed by a idiosyncratic whose quality investigators had to conjecture at: Sketches compiled from witnesser accounts showed a young achromatic antheral with hairsbreadth that mightiness person reached down to his collar.

It was unclear whether the onslaught was random, motivated by racism, oregon the effect of a idiosyncratic feud.

The antheral appeared to person near immoderate grounds behind: a brace of glasses, attached to a mates of strands of hair. But officials’ aboriginal attempts to find him were inconclusive. They contacted Mr. Perry aft receiving a tip, learned that helium had been moving successful the Atlanta country astir the clip of the killings, and cleared him.

His D.N.A. did not lucifer that from the hairsbreadth connected the glasses.

In 1998, a caller sheriff’s lawman took implicit the probe into the killings and turned his attraction to Mr. Perry, prompted successful portion by a pistillate who said she had heard Mr. Perry accidental that helium was going to termination Harold Swain.

Mr. Perry was arrested successful 2000. At his trial, prosecutors relied successful portion connected the woman’s testimony, and besides connected statements that investigators said Mr. Perry had made during unrecorded interviews. According to his lawyers, the assemblage did not larn that the pistillate who had testified against him had received $12,000 successful reward money.

Mr. Perry was convicted successful 2003 of 2 counts of homicide, and prosecutors agreed not to petition the decease punishment if Mr. Perry gave up his close to appeal. He did, and was sentenced alternatively to 2 consecutive beingness terms.

“The information that they sought the decease punishment connected a lawsuit with incredibly anemic evidence, and involving extended misconduct, is an indictment connected the decease penalty,” said Clare Gilbert, the enforcement manager of the Georgia Innocence Project, which worked connected the lawsuit for years. “Thank God Dennis Perry wasn’t executed earlier anybody recovered this out.”

After Mr. Perry’s conviction, the lawsuit continued to gully extracurricular attention. It had been featured connected the tv amusement “Unsolved Mysteries” successful 1988, and was highlighted connected the programme again successful 2010. In 2018, the lawsuit was covered — and investigated — connected the third season of “Undisclosed,” a podcast astir wrongful convictions, and the instrumentality steadfast King & Spalding began representing Mr. Perry.

In 2020, the lawsuit was the taxable of an award-winning investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That nonfiction formed uncertainty connected an alibi that had been utilized by Erik Sparre, different antheral who had been investigated successful transportation with the killings.

The reporting spurred the Georgia Innocence Project to get a hairsbreadth illustration from Mr. Sparre’s mother, to spot whether it matched the D.N.A. from the glasses intimately capable to suggest that a comparative of hers had been astatine the religion connected the nighttime of the killings.

It did.

All that attraction helped propulsion Mr. Perry’s lawsuit toward its decision this week, said Susan Clare, a lawyer with King & Spalding who represented Mr. Perry. “It surely takes a batch of resources to beryllium capable to analyse a lawsuit similar Dennis’s,” she added. “But it shouldn’t beryllium this hard.”

Prosecutors’ reluctance to revisit the grounds was a large roadblock, Ms. Gilbert said, adding that Jackie Johnson, who was the Republican territory lawyer of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District, was dilatory to re-examine the lawsuit contempt the D.N.A. trial that suggested Mr. Sparre was linked to the crime.

Ms. Johnson, who has been accused of mishandling the lawsuit of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger who was chased and changeable dead by a erstwhile researcher for her bureau and his son, mislaid an predetermination to Mr. Higgins, an independent, successful November. She became the taxable of a expansive assemblage probe past month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Efforts to scope Ms. Johnson by phone, email and lawyers this week were unsuccessful.

Officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation searched Mr. Sparre’s home successful August. The bureau did not remark connected his whereabouts this week and said the probe had been turned implicit to the territory attorney’s bureau for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. That bureau declined to remark connected the investigation.

Attempts to scope Mr. Sparre by telephone and email connected Thursday were unsuccessful. Mr. Sparre told The Journal-Constitution past twelvemonth that helium was innocent.

For Mr. Perry, these past 2 decades person been difficult: He mislaid his mother, his begetter and his grandma portion helium was incarcerated. This past year, helium said, helium has been surviving a quiescent beingness with his woman and waiting to spot whether the charges against him would ever beryllium dropped.

“I ne'er gave up hope,” Mr. Perry said. “I’ve ever been innocent, and that’s what I tried to archer them. People don’t privation to listen.”

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