Mistaken Eyewitness Identification
CO-COUNSEL: King & Spalding
ON A SPRING NIGHT IN 1985 A WHITE MAN WALKED INTO A BLACK CHURCH AND MURDERED THE DEACON AND HIS WIFE.
The Rising Daughters Baptist Church. Photographed by law enforcement.
LAW ENFORCEMENT INVESTIGATED OVER 80 SUSPECTS, BUT AT THE TIME NO ONE WAS CHARGED.
The church's interior the night of the murders. Photographed by law enforcement.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER DENNIS PERRY WAS ARRESTED FOR THE MURDERS.
From the Florida Times Union. Terry Dickerson & Staff
HE WAS CONVICTED BASED ON INCONSISTENT EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY.
From the Brunswick News. Karen Sloan.
HE WAS CLEARED BY ALL REMAINING PHYSICAL EVIDENCE.
Crime scene photograph with excerpts from court ordered eye exam and GBI lab report.
HE IS STILL IN PRISON TODAY.
Camden County, Georgia
Camden County, GA | March 11th, 1985
In the Spring of 1985, a double murder occurred at the Rising Daughter Baptist Church in the tiny southeast town of Waverly, GA. A white man entered the church and shot the black deacon and his wife. Several women were in the adjacent room and all gave wildly different descriptions of the perpetrator, though it seems only one had spoken with him or seen his face clearly. Four different sketches were made, and although three were fairly similar, a fourth differed significantly. However all four were combined into a single composite. Police received hundreds of tips about the case, and one anonymous tipster noted Perry's resemblance to the sketch. When investigators followed up on the tip they determined that Perry had a solid alibi - he was at work hundreds of miles away the day of the shooting, and could not have been in Waverly when the crime was committed.
Around 15 years later, after an exhaustive investigation of over 80 suspects by the GBI and the Camden Co. Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff William Smith offered $40,000 of seized drug-related civil forfeiture money to friend / former sheriff's deputy to solve the murders. Within a week the deputy had determined that Dennis Perry was the lead suspect.
Perry was convicted in 2003, 18 years after the crime, based on tainted eyewitness identification and two witnesses claiming years after the fact that Perry might have been town the weekend before the Monday night shooting occurred. The only physical evidence tested was prescription eyeglasses found next to the deacon’s body and believed to have been dropped by the perpetrator. The glasses were not Perry’s, who had perfect eyesight and was excluded by mitochondrial DNA testing as the source of the Caucasian hair found on the glasses. The initial GBI investigator testified at trial that Perry was ruled out as a suspect because of his confirmed alibi.
The jury convicted Perry of the two murders, and just before they would have made the decision whether to sentence Perry to death, the prosecutor offered Perry a life rather than death sentence if Perry agreed never to appeal his conviction.
All the witnesses agreed that the perpetrator was white, in his late twenties or early thirties and had on dark clothes.
He looked to be approximately 5'6" to 5'8" tall, with a medium or slight build.
Some remembered him wearing glasses, others didn't.
Most thought he was clean shaven, but one remembered a mustache.
The four original sketches.
The final composite.
In 2015, GIP secured DNA testing on the remaining physical evidence collected at the crime scene - buttons from the perpetrator’s clothing, shell casings, and the church telephone wires that had been cut. Unfortunately, there was not usable DNA on any of the items.
But the fight is not over! GIP is now partnering with the Undisclosed podcast for another riveting season, this time to reinvestigate the Dennis Perry case and identify new avenues to prove Perry's innocence and fight for release from his wrongful imprisonment.