Woman whose DNA evidence was pivotal in overturned murder conviction found dead

News4Jax reporter spoke with a friend of Gladys Sparre about the new details in the Dennis Perry investigation.

WAYNESVILLE, Ga. – The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death of 79-year-old Gladys Sparre -- the mother of a man at the center of a just-overturned verdict of Dennis Perry in a 1985 double murder.

The GBI said Sunday afternoon that its Kingsland office responded to a death investigation in Waynesville at the request of the Brantley County Sheriff’s Office. The GBI later said it was investigating Gladys Sparre’s death.

The GBI said Monday that it was requested about 11:15 a.m. Sunday by the Brantley County Sheriff’s Office to assist in the investigation after Gladys Sparre was found dead earlier that morning at her residence in Waynesville.

According to the GBI, an autopsy has been conducted and is pending results of further forensic testing and investigative efforts.

The GBI said Sparre was last seen at her residence on Friday afternoon. As the investigation continues, anyone with information is asked to contact the Brantley County Sheriff’s Office at 912-462-6141 or the GBI Kingsland Office at 912-729-6198.

A friend who worshiped with Gladys Sparre described her as a gentle woman.

“She had a very positive. She loved everybody. She was very warm,” the woman told News4Jax.

DNA from the Gladys Sparre’s son, Erik Sparre, was just used last week as evidence in a hearing that led to the reopening of a murder investigation into the 1985 deaths of Deacon Harold Swain and his wife Thelma. The two were gunned down inside their Camden County church.

Perry was arrested for the murders in 2000. A jury convicted him of killing the Swains in 2003, but on Friday, a Glynn County Judge overturned the convictions, based upon new developments in the case.

Within the past two years, Perry’s attorneys at the Georgia Innocence Project and King and Spalding discovered exculpatory evidence, they say demonstrate Perry’s constitutional rights were violated in his 2003 trial.

According to court documents, new DNA evidence from three hairs, on a pair of glasses found at the crime scene in 1985, excludes Perry and points to a one-time suspect in the case, a man by the name of Erik Sparre -- Gladys Sparre’s son.

Court documents show Erik Sparre was arrested a year after the murders but ultimately the state did not pursue charges against Erik Sparre.

In February of this year, a GIP investigator obtained a voluntary hair DNA sample from Gladys Sparre.

A lab compared the sample from Gladys Sparre to that of the DNA found on the hairs at the crime scene; it was a match, putting Erik Sparre within less than one-half of one percent of the general population that cannot be excluded as a contributor of the DNA found on the hairs attached to a pair of glasses believed to belong to the Swains’ killer.

Perry remains behind bars. His attorneys said they are hoping for a bond hearing this week.

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