Georgia man exonerated in 1985 Camden County double murder awarded $1.23M by state

Dennis Perry wrongfully spent 20 years in prison in killing of church deacon and his wife

Photo of Dennis Perry taken after court hearing on July 19, 2021.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A 60-year-old man who wrongfully spent more than 20 years in prison -- accused of killing a Camden County couple -- was awarded $1.23 million by the state in a bill approved during the final moments of this year’s Georgia legislative session.

Dennis Perry walked away from court a free man in July 2021 -- one year after his conviction was overturned.

Perry was accused of murdering Harold and Thelma Swain inside a Waverly, Georgia, church in 1985. Perry was arrested for the murders in 2000 and convicted in 2003.

After new DNA evidence was presented in the case, Perry’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial. In July 2020, a judge granted the request for a new trial and Perry was allowed out of prison on his own recognizance.

In Glynn County Superior Court in July 2021, District Attorney Keith Higgins said after his review of the case and consultation with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Perry should not be retried on the charges and Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett Sr. agreed.

Perry addressed the court, saying he hopes the real killer is found and the family of the victims get justice in the case.

“I pray every day for Harold and Thelma Swain,” Perry said.

DNA evidence that came to light last year shows Perry might have been acquitted if that evidence had been available during his 2003 trial for the March 11, 1985 murders. Perry was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and imprisoned in March 2003.

Perry’s conviction may have never been overturned if not for the Georgia Innocence Project.

In March of 2020, investigators with the Georgia Innocence Project presented DNA from a hair sample, voluntarily given by Gladys Sparre, the mother of Erik Sparre, a one-time suspect in the case. Erik Sparre’s hair turned a perfect match for hairs in a pair of glasses found inches from the bodies of the Swain’s.

Most importantly, DNA evidence from the sample of hair excluded Perry.

Perry’s alibi also showed it would be virtually impossible to be in Camden County at the time of the crime. Perry worked in the metro Atlanta area and didn’t leave his job until after 5:30 p.m. The shootings occurred at 8:40 p.m.

One month after the new evidence was presented, Perry’s attorneys filed an extraordinary motion for a new trial in light of this newly discovered DNA evidence. In July 2020, a judge granted the request for a new trial and Perry had been out of prison on his own recognizance since July 2020.