A man who spent two decades in prison for a 1985 double homicide during church bible study has been exonerated, with all charges against him dropped.
Newly discovered DNA evidence from a hair sample shows Dennis A. Perry, 59, “may have been acquitted if that evidence had been available” during his 2003 trial for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain in Georgia, according to a news release from Glynn County District Attorney Keith Higgins.
Perry, formerly of Camden County, Georgia, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences following his arrest in 2000. His subsequent conviction was overturned in July, and Higgins’ office announced Monday that prosecutors will not re-try him.
“It took a long time, but I never gave up,” Perry said in a news release Monday. “I knew that eventually someone else would see the truth, and I’m so grateful to the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding [law firm] for bringing the truth to light. This indictment has been hanging over my head for over 20 years, and it’s such a relief to finally not have to worry about being accused of this awful thing.”
‘Righting a wrong’
The DNA evidence involves a pair of eyeglasses found at the crime scene in 1985, according to the news release. Investigators found 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 get a hair sample from a Brantley County woman who is the mother of a man implicated, but not charged, in the 1985 Swain murders, according to the district attorney’s news release. Her hair sample was then examined by the same lab that did the DNA testing on the hair found in the eyeglasses in 2001 and those profiles matched, prompting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen the case in light of the new evidence.
Mitochondrial DNA testing was done using those hair samples prior to Perry’s 2003 trial and excluded him as a possible contributor of the hairs; however, he was convicted using circumstantial evidence at trial, the release said.