A man behind bars more than 20 years for the double murder conviction of an elderly Black couple in North Camden County will get a new trial.
Chief Brunswick Judicial Circuit Judge Stephen Scarlett granted a new trial for Dennis Perry on Friday.
Perry, who has maintained his innocence since all along, was convicted of the 1985 shooting deaths of Harold and Thelma Swain in 2003. The case was reopened in the late 1990s by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office. Perry was charged with the 15-year-old murders in 2000.
During a motion hearing earlier this week, lawyers representing Perry argued newly obtained DNA evidence would have eliminated their client as a suspect. Perry was convicted without any physical evidence linking him to the crime.
A key part of the prosecution’s case was the testimony of a woman who claimed she heard Perry claim responsibility for the double homicide in the vestibule of Rising Daughters Baptist Church. She was given a $12,000 reward for her role in the arrest and conviction of Perry.
A former Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent who was part of the original investigation testified during the hearing that Perry was excluded as a suspect after he checked his alibi. Perry was working in the metro Atlanta area until after 5 p.m. the day of the shootings, which happened less than four hours later.
The special agent determined it would have been impossible for Perry to drive to Camden County from Atlanta to commit the crime.
Another suspect is now linked to the crime from DNA evidence found at the scene. It matches a family member.
Testimony during the motion hearing indicated a false alibi was given by the person now linked to the crime by DNA evidence.
After Friday’s ruling, Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, said she was not district attorney at the time of the Swain murders or Perry’s trial and conviction. She asked the GBI to review the case, saying she is “committed to the truth.”
“I will await the findings of the GBI’s investigation before determining how to proceed,” she said. “What is most important and what the Swain Family and the citizens of Camden County deserve is to find the truth of what happened and to hold those persons who were responsible for these tragic deaths accountable under the law.”