Press Release – July 17, 2020
JUDGE ORDERS NEW TRIAL AFTER TWENTY YEARS FOR MAN CONVICTED IN 1985 DOUBLE MURDER IN RURAL GEORGIA CHURCH
Georgia Innocence Project and co-counsel King & Spalding secured a new trial for Dennis Perry after matching DNA recovered from the crime scene in 1985 to an alternate suspect during re-investigation of the case.
A Superior Court Judge today ordered a new trial for Dennis Perry, 58, following a contested hearing in Glynn County, Georgia, in which attorneys from Georgia Innocence Project and co-counsel King & Spalding presented evidence that not only exonerates Perry in the 1985 double murder of Harold and Thelma Swain, but also implicates an alternate suspect.
“We are very grateful that Judge Scarlett went forward with Monday’s hearing and that, after hearing our evidence and considering the record, he reached the merits of Dennis’ claim and granted the motion for new trial,” said Phil Holladay, co-counsel at King & Spalding. “We believe that this is an important first step towards ending Dennis Perry and his family’s 20-plus year nightmare, and we will continue to do everything we can to secure our client’s immediate release from prison.”
For over three decades, Perry has maintained his innocence in the deaths of a deacon and his wife who were shot in the vestibule of Rising Daughter Baptist Church during an evening bible study in Waverly, Georgia, on March 11, 1985.
Perry’s legal team at the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial in April 2020 after GIP’s investigator collected DNA evidence that was then matched to DNA evidence recovered from the crime scene in 1985. The DNA evidence implicates an alternate suspect who, witnesses testified on Monday, had a false alibi and has repeatedly bragged about committing the murders in the years since the crime occured.
“Today’s victory was hard-fought after teams of passionate lawyers, reporters, and investigators re-analyzed his case and each arrived at an inescapable conclusion: Dennis Perry is an innocent man,” said Jennifer Whitfield, a Georgia Innocence Project attorney on Perry’s legal team. “Dennis has spent over 20 years wrongfully imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. We look forward to the day when we can join his family in welcoming him home.”
At his original trial in 2003, one of the State’s original lead investigators, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Joe Gregory, testified that he and Camden County Sheriff Deputy Butch Kennedy cleared Perry of the murders 15 years prior based on a confirmed alibi and the failure of a key witness to identify him in a photo lineup. Over many years, the pair investigated hundreds of suspects, with the help of tips from television broadcasts on Unsolved Mysteries, Crime Watch, and Prime Suspect, but the case eventually went cold. That is, until 1998, when the Camden County Sheriff promised former deputy Dale Bundy a job if he could solve the case. Within a week, Bundy identified Perry as the main suspect based primarily on the testimony of Jane Beaver, the mother of Perry’s ex-girlfriend, who was paid a $12,000 reward in exchange for a successful prosecution – a critical fact never disclosed to Perry’s attorneys. Eighteen years after the murders, the State, seeking a death sentence, prosecuted Perry in a trial characterized by unreliable evidence and prosecutorial misconduct. After the jury convicted Perry, the prosecutor proposed that if Dennis would waive his right to file a direct appeal, the prosecutor would ensure Dennis would not be executed. Dennis agreed and in turn received two consecutive life sentences in prison.
The case received renewed media attention in 2018 as the focus of Undisclosed podcast’s third season in which dedicated reporters thoroughly reinvestigated the case, distilling thousands of pages and hundreds of suspects into a few promising leads. Building on that, a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution then honed in on one suspect in particular after uncovering that his original alibi had been fabricated. A key turning point came in early 2020 when GIP Investigator Ron Grosse, a former FBI agent of 28 years, collected a hair sample voluntarily provided by a relative of that suspect. The hair was then submitted for mitochondrial DNA comparison against DNA evidence collected from hairs on a distinctive pair of glasses dropped at the crime scene, and the match was discovered.
“When faced with such clear evidence of an unreliable conviction and an innocent man in prison, it should not have required court intervention and wasted taxpayer resources to recognize that Dennis Perry never should have been convicted in the first place,” said Clare Gilbert, executive director at Georgia Innocence Project. “At GIP, we work toward the day when all of Georgia’s prosecutors feel duty-bound to correct injustice inflicted by the criminal legal system with the same urgency that they seek justice for crime victims deemed worthy. Dennis’s story is extraordinary, but unfortunately it is not unique. Barriers built into the system give the State the opportunity to delay and deflect when faced with unjust and unreliable convictions, but prosecutors always have the moral obligation and ethical responsibility to do the right thing. While we are celebrating with Dennis today, we still have a lot of work to do in Georgia.”
ABOUT GEORGIA INNOCENCE PROJECT
Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) in an independent nonprofit organization that works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions in Georgia. GIP is entirely distinct from the Innocence Project, which handles cases across the country. Collaborating with a network of pro bono lawyers, volunteers, and students, GIP attorneys and staff conduct investigations into criminal convictions where modern DNA testing was not available at the time of trial. If there is a compelling claim of actual innocence, and DNA or other evidence exists to prove that innocence, GIP litigates cases to secure the wrongfully convicted person’s freedom. GIP works with exonerees upon release to provide support and help them meaningfully reintegrate into society. Learn more at www.georgiainnocence.org, and follow GIP on Twitter and Instagram at @GAinnocence.
ABOUT KING & SPALDING
Celebrating more than 130 years of service, King & Spalding is an international law firm that represents a broad array of clients, including half of the Fortune Global 100, with over 1,200 lawyers in 22 offices in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The firm has handled matters in over 160 countries on six continents and is consistently recognized for the results it obtains, uncompromising commitment to quality, and dedication to understanding the business and culture of its clients. For more information about King & Spalding’s pro bono work on Dennis Perry’s case and others, contact Director of Communications Micheline Tang at [email protected] or visit www.kslaw.com.