By Marilin Ayon and Marcia Barajas
CAMDEN COUNTY, GA – This week, more than 20 years after his arrest, Dennis Arnold Perry, had his murder conviction charges after new DNA evidence, unavailable at the time of the original criminal investigation, was detected.
Perry was convicted on Feb. 14, 2003, for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain. The couple was shot and killed on March 11, 1985, inside the vestibule of Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Camden County, Georgia.
The murders occurred in the presence of nine other women who were hosting a Bible Study group in an adjacent room. Despite testimonies that the women saw the suspect who allegedly arrived at the church asking for Mr. Swain, they were not able to offer a concrete sketch of the individual.
Nevertheless, their testimonies were consistent in that the perpetrator was a white man in his late 20s to early 30s wearing dark clothes. Officials at that time used the different sketches to compose a single one, which was later connected to Perry.
By 1988, Perry was considered a possible suspect of the murders of the Swain couple, but Perry was able to offer a credible alibi. At that time, Perry was working far from town at the time of the crime. However, 15 years later, Sheriff William Smith offered $40,000 to close the investigation.
Once again, Perry was identified as the primary suspect of the murders. Perry’s conviction was based on mistaken eyewitnesses, circumstantial evidence tying him to the murder scene, along with the testimony of an incentivized witness.
In 2004, Perry sought the help of the Georgia Innocence Project to help.
At the crime scene were a pair of sunglasses, with two strands of hair attached to them. DNA testing excluded Perry as a possible suspect. Nevertheless, an incentivized witness, who was offered $12,000, visited two of the women who had been present on the night of the crime.
The witness showed the women a picture of Perry and suggested that he was responsible for the death of the couple. This led the women, who previously were unsure about the appearance of the perpetrator, to testify that Perry was the murderer.
After Perry was convicted, he entered into a sentencing agreement with the state: two consecutive life sentences. As part of his agreement, the defendant agreed to waive his right to appeal,
However, two decades later, a new suspect was found after discovering a match between his DNA and that detected from the crime scene.
A new DNA testing of additional evidence was granted for post-conviction on March 16, 2015. In April of 2020, Perry filed the present Extraordinary Motion for New Trial Based on New DNA Evidence (“Motion”).
Perry obtained a voluntary hair sample from Gladys Sparre, the mother of Erik Sparre, another suspect in the Swain murder investigation. The profiles matched the analyzed hairs recovered from the crime scene. In light of the lack of physical evidence connecting Perry to the crime scene, a new trial was authorized.
The new DNA evidence undoubtedly linked Erik Sparre to the crime scene. The court found analyst Gloria Dimick’s conclusion about the Sparre hair sample credible and acceptable. Perry had an alibi and the DNA evidence obtained from the hairs fixed in the glasses conclusively discounted Perry as a factor of the hairs.
He was released.