On March 11, 1985, Harold and Thelma Swain were leading a bible study at the Rising Daughter Baptist Church, a predominantly black church where Harold was a deacon, in Waverly, Georgia. At some point during the study, a white man entered the church and murdered the Swains. Witnesses were able to briefly see the murderer, but their descriptions were not that helpful to law enforcement.
Three years later, lead investigators Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Joe Gregory and Camden County Sheriff Deputy Butch Kennedy were still trying to figure out who murdered the Swains. The name Dennis Perry was among the hundreds of suspects in the shooting, but the investigators were able to rule him out as a suspect because he had an alibi: He was working in the Atlanta area at the time of the shooting. A key witness was also unable to pick Perry’s photo out of a lineup to identify him as the shooter.
The murders went cold and were even featured on popular television shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Crime Watch.” Hundreds of tips flowed in, but the case still went cold. In 1998, 13 years after the shooting, Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith made a stunning decision: He promised former deputy Dale Bundy a job if Bundy could solve the cold case.
Bundy immediately zeroed in on Perry, according to the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP), due primarily to the testimony of Jane Beaver, the mother of Perry’s ex-girlfriend. By pointing the finger at Perry, Beaver sought a reward of $25,000 for her information. She eventually received $12,000 to testify against Perry – but this payment was never disclosed to Perry’s defense attorneys.
“Eighteen years after the murders, the State, seeking a death sentence, prosecuted Perry in a trial characterized by unreliable evidence and prosecutorial misconduct,” the GIP said in a press release. “After the jury convicted Perry, Assistant District Attorney John Johnson offered Perry a deal: if Perry waived his right to file a direct appeal, Johnson would ensure he would not be executed. Perry agreed and in turn received two consecutive life sentences in prison.”
More from GIP:
The years ticked by as Perry fought to prove his innocence from prison, and the Georgia Innocence Project accepted and worked on his case, ultimately recruiting King & Spalding as co-counsel. The case received renewed media attention in 2018 as the focus of Undisclosed podcast’s third season in which dedicated reporters thoroughly reinvestigated the case, distilling thousands of pages and hundreds of suspects into a few promising leads. Building on that, a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution then honed in on one suspect in particular after uncovering that his original alibi had been fabricated. GIP Investigator Ron Grosse then collected DNA evidence from a relative of that suspect which was then matched to evidence from the crime scene.
Last year, the GIP and King & Spalding presented all this to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who refused to grant Perry a new trial. Instead, Johnson asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen its investigation into the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain.
Perry’s defense team filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial. Johnson, the original trial prosecutor, and a contract attorney fought against the motion, but Brunswick Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett granted it and ordered Perry to be released from prison on his own recognizance to await Johnson’s decision whether to hold a new trial or dismiss the charges against Perry.
It has been a year since Perry was released from prison, and on Monday, Judge Scarlett granted Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins’ motion to dismiss the charges against Perry, officially exonerating a man who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
It took a long time, but I never gave up,” Perry said in the GIP’s press release. “I knew that eventually someone else would see the truth, and I’m so grateful to the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding for bringing the truth to light. This indictment has been hanging over my head for over 20 years, and it’s such a relief to finally not have to worry about being accused of this awful thing.”
The Daily Wire is one of America’s fastest-growing conservative media companies and counter-cultural outlets for news, opinion, and entertainment. Get inside access to The Daily Wire by becoming a member.