The attorney who successfully prosecuted Dennis Perry on double murder charges in 2003 argued against Perry’s motion for a new trial Monday.
Brunswick Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney John Johnson said Perry signed an agreement after his conviction for the 1985 shooting deaths of Harold and Thelma Swain, husband and wife, at the Rising Daughters Baptist Church in north Camden County.
The agreement Perry signed to avoid a possible death penalty called for him to agree to life in prison with no right to appeal the conviction.
“He waived all appeal rights,” Johnson said.
Perry, whose appeal is supported by Georgia Innocence Project and the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding, has denied any involvement in the shooting deaths since his arrest in January 2000.
Lawyers seeking a new trial for Perry said new DNA evidence links another suspect to the crime. The technology was not available at the time of the shooting deaths 35 years ago and it would have been cost prohibitive for the more than 100 possible suspects to be tested when the investigation was reopened more than a decade later.
Gloria Dimick, a forensic examiner who tested DNA samples from five suspects, including Perry, concluded the samples did not match any of the suspects tested.
Ironically, Dimick tested a hair sample from the mother of one of the original suspects who was not tested. An investigator got a voluntary hair sample from the suspect’s mother and it was a match to hairs found on a pair of glasses believed to have fallen out of the pocket of the murder suspect.
Dimick said the new evidence does not conclusively prove the new suspect is guilty, but “he could not be excluded.”
Dimick said it’s the first time she has ever testified in a case as a DNA expert on behalf of a defendant.
Johnson argued the reason for being in court was a motion hearing for a new trial, not to build a case against someone else.
“We’re not involved in the investigation of a crime,” he said.
Joe Gregory, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent assigned to the case in 1985, said he ruled out Perry as a suspect after determining it would have been “virtually impossible” for him 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. and went home to his mother’s in Jonesboro. The shootings occurred at 8:40 p.m.
“In my opinion, we cleared Mr. Perry and we moved on to other suspects,” he said.
Gregory also said there were “volumes” of evidence in the case that went missing by the time Perry’s trial was held. Gregory had retired by the time of the trial and didn’t know what happened to the evidence.
“The documents I’ve been shown should have been in the case file,” he said.
One piece of evidence was a taped telephone recording by the man now linked by DNA evidence to the case. The man claimed to have killed African-Americans in the past and he threatened to kill everyone in the person’s family, in the message. It was given to the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, he said.
Gregory said he went to the new suspect’s home during the original investigation but didn’t find any evidence.
“We did not discount him as a suspect,” Gregory said. “That’s why we left him in the active case file.”
One of the key pieces of evidence that led investigators in other directions was a person identified as the suspect’s supervisor. The man who talked to Gregory by phone said his employee was on the job from 3 p.m. until 6 a.m. the day of the shooting deaths.
But when that supervisor testified at Monday’s hearing, he said he didn’t recall talking to authorities. He said an affidavit filed with investigators that included his social security number is not from him.
Gregory said he never got a timecard from the company to corroborate the information he received over the phone.
Several other witnesses testified about the man linked to the new DNA evidence and his claims to be responsible for killing African-Americans in the past.
At the end of the daylong hearing, Chief Brunswick Judicial Circuit Judge Stephen Scarlett gave both sides until Thursday to file briefs summarizing their cases.
Scarlett said he would try to reach a decision by Friday on the motion for a new trial.