Judge exonerates man who served 20 years in Georgia slayings

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A judge on Monday dismissed all charges against a man convicted of the 1985 slayings of a couple at a south Georgia church, exonerating him after he spent two decades behind bars, the man’s attorneys said.

Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett granted a motion by prosecutors to dismiss the case against Dennis Perry, 59. Scarlett last year gave Perry the chance for a new trial after DNA recovered from the crime scene matched a different suspect during reinvestigation of the case. He also ordered Perry’s release from prison while prosecutors decided whether to refile charges.

Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins, who took office in January, decided not to pursue the case.

“There are times when seeking justice means righting a wrong,” Higgins said, according to WTLV-TV. “While this case was prosecuted prior to my administration, the new evidence indicates that someone else murdered Harold and Thelma Swain.”

Perry, who had maintained his innocence, said in a statement he “knew that eventually someone else would see the truth.”

“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,” he said.

The Swains were killed inside Rising Daughters Baptist Church in Waverly, Georgia, in 1985.

Perry was convicted in 2003 largely on the testimony of his ex-girlfriend’s mother, who said Perry had told her he planned to kill Harold Swain. The state didn’t disclose to the defense that the woman was paid $12,000 in reward money for her testimony. Perry received two consecutive life sentences in prison.

The new DNA evidence has cast suspicion on another man in the slaying. Authorities were led to that suspect after reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found his alibi was fabricated, Perry’s attorneys say.

“We are thrilled that Dennis and his family can now begin the long process of recovery and healing,” said Jennifer Whitfield, an attorney with the Georgia Innocence Project, which along with the King & Spalding law firm helped secure Perry’s exoneration. “It takes so little to convict, and yet so much to undo a wrongful conviction.”

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