KEY POINTS

  • A Georgia man was exonerated of murder charges after DNA evidence revealed he could have been acquitted in his 2003 trial
  • The 59-year-old was wrongfully convicted of murdering a couple in Georgia
  • Prosecutors decided to dismiss the charges because the victims' family believed the man was not the killer

A judge dropped all charges earlier this week against a 59-year-old Georgia man who spent over 20 years in prison for the deaths of a deacon and his wife in 1985, state prosecutors announced Monday.

Dennis Perry was exonerated of murder charges after newly discovered DNA evidence revealed he could have been acquitted in his 2003 trial for the deaths of Harold and Thelma Swain, News 4 reported, citing a news release from Glynn County District Attorney Keith Higgins.

Perry received two consecutive life sentences in prison after being found guilty of shooting the Swains in the vestibule of Rising Daughter Baptist Church during an evening bible study in Waverly in Camden County, Georgia, on March 11, 1985, according to the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP), the nonprofit organization that provided legal assistance to Perry.

Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett overturned the murder convictions on July 17 last year following the discovery of the new DNA evidence, and Perry was released on his own recognizance pending the district attorney's decision to dismiss the charges.

Investigators had found two hairs belonging to the alleged killer, who was not identified in the report, in the hinges of a pair of eyeglasses discovered at the crime scene in 1985, according to the district attorney.

In February last year, private investigators working for Perry managed to obtain a hair sample from a Brantley County woman who is the mother of a man implicated, but not charged, in the Swains' murders, the news release said. The DNA matched that of the hair found in the glasses, leading to the reopening of the case.

Before his 2003 trial, testing on the hair samples had proven they did not come from Perry, but he was convicted using circumstantial evidence, according to the release.

Prosecutors decided not to pursue the case after the Swains' family said they "did not believe that Dennis Perry committed these murders," Higgins was quoted as saying by Fox News.

"It took a long time, but I never gave up," Perry was quoted as saying by the GIP in a statement following the announcement of the dismissal.

"We are grateful that, at last, the new Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney, Keith Higgins, was willing to evaluate this case based on principles of justice and dismiss the charges, rather than simply fight to secure a conviction at any cost," GIP executive director Clare Gilbert said in the statement.

Perry has spent time at home with his wife, Brenda, after his release from prison, according to the GIP. He has been reconnecting with friends and family, as well as trying to recover and readjust.

Georgia is one of 14 states that currently does not have a statutory compensation law to provide financial relief for years lost to wrongful conviction. This prompted the GIP to launch a personal fundraiser to help Perry and his family.

According to the organization, the lack of such financial relief leaves "exonerees like Dennis... on their own, with virtually no support from the State, to rebuild their lives."

church-498525_1920 Representation. Dennis Perry, 59, was exonerated of murder charges after being wrongfully convicted of killing Harold and Thelma Swain in a church in 1985. Photo: Pixabay