For the first time in more than 20 years, a Camden County man is at home with family.
A judge ordered Dennis Perry to be released last week on his own recognizance.
Perry was arrested in 2000 and convicted in 2003 in the 1985 murders of a Southeast Georgia couple. The Georgia Innocence Project, an independent organization, fought on Perry’s behalf to get the conviction overturned and for him to be released.
Perry’s family says his late mother wrote to the Georgia Innocence Project in the early 2000s, asking the organization to represent her son in what she said was a wrongful conviction. For more than a decade, the Georgia Innocence Project has worked on getting Perry out of prison.
This past week, that happened. Perry, his wife, Brenda, and his first cousin, Suzanne Baugh, walked hand in hand away from Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia.
“It feels good. It’s been 20 years,” Perry said.
Those were some of the first he uttered after he was released from prison.
“Two years ago, I said I was going to pray my way out of here. That’s what I have done. I asked God for help, and he sent me 12 disciples, 12 people from your law firm, and then I had Jennifer,” Perry said, referring to Jennifer Whitfield, a staff attorney with the Georgia Innocence Project. “Jennifer kept fighting for me and I just thank them all. I just want to go home now.”
Attorneys from the law firm King & Spalding and the Georgia Innocence Project were in Perry’s corner.
“We focus on cases just in Georgia. Our mission is to correct and prevent wrongful convictions, cases of people who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit, to provide support to people once they have been freed or exonerated from wrongful convictions,” said Georgia Innocence Project Executive Director Clare Gilbert.
The Georgia Innocence Project has been working with and for Perry since 2004.
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Gilbert discusses what could happen next with the case.
“So there are several different things that could happen, and a lot of what happens next lies in the hands of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. They could appeal Judge Scarlett’s order, granting Mr. Perry a new trial, which would then go up to the Georgia Supreme Court. If they don’t appeal, the underlying charges are still open, and they could dismiss those charges, which would result in an exoneration, or they could see to retry him on those charges,” Gilbert said.
At this time, Perry is still facing murder charges. The discovery of exculpatory evidence and developments in the case led a judge to overturn his conviction in the shooting deaths of Harold and Thelma Swain inside their Waverly, Georgia, church.
Perry has maintained his innocence since the beginning.