Family member worried about inmate housed in Georgia prison with nearly 180 COVID-19 cases

Man convicted in 1985 Camden County church murders behind bars at Coffee Correctional Facility

Family member worried about inmate housed in Georgia prison with nearly 180 COVID-19 cases
Family member worried about inmate housed in Georgia prison with nearly 180 COVID-19 cases

The Georgia prison with the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 was Coffee Correctional Facility, the state Department of Corrections reported Sunday.

News4Jax on Sunday spoke with a concerned Jacksonville woman who has a loved one inside that prison.

Dennis Perry was convicted of the murders of Deacon Harold Swain and his wife, Thelma. He is serving two life sentences.

The Swains were gunned down inside a Camden County church in 1985. Perry has maintained his innocence for decades, long before his arrest in 2000.

Perry is currently behind bars at the Coffee Correctional Facility. As of Sunday, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website, the facility had more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other prison within the system. The GDC website showed 177 inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus and one had recovered as of Sunday.

“It’s super concerning, and we are so worried about him,” said Suzanne Baugh, Perry’s first cousin. “He has lost his freedom to be out in public. He has lost the freedom to see his family. He has lost the freedom to go to classes, which keeps him occupied, his mind off of things and keeps him busy, which he has done while he has been in prison.”

Baugh said she believes this is a sentence on a sentence.

“The sentence of worrying about COVID. Your family is worried about you. You’re worried about you. You are in a place with no social distancing, no way to keep yourself healthy. You are inside most of the day. These are huge concerns,” she said.

Baugh talked about the precautions she knows are being taken.

“He is wearing a mask, and I have asked him about that. He said he has masks and he rotates them. I don’t know if they are cloth masks, and he washes them. I don’t know if they are paper masks. I don’t know if they are N95 masks,“ Baugh said.

She said Perry is also concerned.

“He is very concerned, and I know this because I told him, ‘I am concerned for you. Please tell me you are wearing your masks all the time. Please tell me you are washing your hands when you can. Please tell me that you’re trying.’ He is trying and doing the best he can with what he has, but you are in a dorm with dozens and dozens of other people,” Baugh said.

Baugh said, to her knowledge, Perry has not been tested.

According to the GDC website, inmates in custody continue to receive all necessary treatment and services such as showers, medical and mental health treatment, alternative educational, clinical and substance abuse programming, access to the phones and kiosks, cleaning supplies and hand soap, the law library and the commissary.

The GDC said all facilities are operating on a modified movement process to ensure the safety and well-being of staff and inmates. All new inmates and inmates returning from court are administered a COVID-19 test. The GDC said inmates who are symptomatic will be placed in a designed medical isolation unit while awaiting test results. Inmates who are asymptomatic will be placed in a 14-day security quarantine while awaiting test results. Visition at all GDC facilities will remain suspended through at least July 12.

News4Jax reached out to Coffee Correctional Facility, but had not heard back as of Sunday evening.

Georgia Innocence Project and Perry’s attorneys released this statement:

“Since learning of the new DNA evidence further demonstrating Mr. Perry’s innocence, we have urged District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s office and Attorney General Chris Carr’s office to take immediate action to address this miscarriage of justice. Mr. Perry has been wrongfully deprived of his liberty for more than 20 years -- given this COVID outbreak in the prison and the threat it poses to incarcerated individuals, it is simply unconscionable for the State to keep him imprisoned and place his life in jeopardy as well.”

Perry is scheduled to appear in court on July 13 for a hearing for a new trial based on new evidence recently discovered in the case. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has reopened the murder case.

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