A man who served 20 years in prison for a double murder before DNA evidence showed he was wrongly convicted was exonerated Monday by Brunswick Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Stephen Scarlett.

Dennis Perry was arrested in 2000 and charged with the 1985 murders of Harold and Thelma Swain at a church in north Camden County.

Keith Higgins, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, said he reviewed the evidence and talked with investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and members of the Swain Family before reaching the decision to ask the court to consider the motion.

Higgins said another person considered a suspect at the time reportedly told others he was the one who killed the Swains.

“There are times when seeking justice means righting a wrong,” Higgins said. “While this case was prosecuted prior to my administration, the new evidence indicates that someone else murdered Harold and Thelma Swain. Mr. Perry is now, and has been since July 2020, a free man. We will continue to examine all the evidence in the case — new and old — as we determine what the next step will be in this investigation.”

Perry no longer has to worry about his time in prison haunting him. Access to his criminal history will be restricted.

“It took a long time, but I never gave up,” Perry said. “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.”

After the decision, Perry thanked Higgins for not assuming he was guilty because he had been convicted of a double murder.

“I lost faith in the justice system,” Perry said. “I’ve said this from the beginning, I’m innocent. Now, I can move forward with my life.”

After the decision, the courtroom audience erupted in applause, whistles and cheers.

“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,” said Clare Gilbert, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project. “We need stronger ethical rules for Georgia prosecutors in order to promote accountability and help prevent and correct wrongful, unjust convictions like Dennis Perry’s.”

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