Man exonerated after spending 20 years in prison for Georgia double murder

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A man convicted of killing a couple at a south Georgia church has been exonerated after he spent two decades behind bars.

Dennis Perry breathed a sigh of relief Monday that was 20 years, six months and 10 days in the making. He is celebrating his release as a free man, but says his struggle isn’t over.

“Today the Brunswick Circuit DA’s Office has finally acknowledged what has long been obvious. Mr. Perry is indeed innocent,” Perry’s attorney Susan Clare said.

Perry was wrongfully arrested and convicted of the 1985 double murder of Harold and Thelma Swain at the Rising Daughters Baptist Church in Waverly, Georgia.

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Perry was convicted in 2003 largely on the testimony of his ex-girlfriend’s mother, who said Perry had told her he planned to kill Harold Swain. The state didn’t disclose to the defense that the woman was paid $12,000 in reward money for her testimony. Perry received two consecutive life sentences in prison.

“I was cleared by the GBI 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.

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On July 17, the Superior Court of Glynn County granted Perry a new trial based on rediscovered DNA evidence.

Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins, who took office in January, decided not to pursue the case.

“I am grateful that this part of this nightmare is behind me,” Perry said.

Additionally, there is a motion for Perry’s records to become restricted.

“The judge has ordered that it is restricted so that employers and future potential landlords and things like that can’t access the records,” said Clare Gilbert with the Georgia Innocence Project

Although Perry’s legal battle may have ended, now lies the lasting impact.

“Yet I will deal every day with what happened to me,” he said.

The murder investigation remains ongoing. The DNA now allegedly points investigators to another suspect, Erik Sparre.

Authorities were led to the suspect after reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found his alibi was fabricated, Perry’s attorneys say.

You can learn more details about the case here through the Georgia Innocence Project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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