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Dennis Perry, man exonerated in Camden County murder case, awarded $1.23M by state

Dennis A. Perry, 59, was convicted in 2003 for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain. He has been free since July 2020 after a judge overturned the conviction.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Georgia man sentenced to life in prison for a 1985 double-murder has been awarded over a million dollars from the state.

Dennis A. Perry, 59, was convicted in 2003 for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain. He has been free since July 2020 after a judge overturned his original conviction and granted him a new trial.

The charges against Perry were officially dropped in July 2021.

HR 593 passed Tuesday and authorizes a $1.2M payout to Perry as compensation for his time in prison.

After an initial payment of $307,500.00, the resolution says the remainder of said sum shall be paid in the form of an annuity in equal monthly installments over a 20-year period of time. 

However, before any money can be paid to Perry, the resolution still needs to be signed by Governor Kemp, which he is expected to do.

What happened?

On March 11, 1985, Harold and Thelma Swain attended a meeting at Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Waverly. 

One of the attendees excused herself at about 9 p.m. and found someone in the church's vestibule, according to a release by the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

The man told the woman he needed to speak to 66-year-old Harold Swain. The woman left as Swain went to meet with the man. Witnesses heard a scuffle then four gunshots, the release says.

Thelma Swain, 63, ran into the vestibule and was also shot, the court states. The killer escaped the building shortly after. 

The case eventually went cold but was reopened in 1998, which led to the arrest of Dennis Perry. Although Perry proclaimed his innocence, he nevertheless was convicted of murder. To avoid the death penalty, Perry accepted a deal in which he waived his right to file a direct appeal, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.

What changed?

During the original 1985 investigation, detectives found a pair of distinct glasses with hairs stuck in the hinges that they believed belonged to the killer, the Brunswick Judicial Circuit says. While DNA testing in 2003 found the hairs did not belong to Perry, he was still convicted. The Georgia Innocence Project says Perry's conviction was largely based on circumstantial and character evidence. 

RELATED: Dennis Perry released from Georgia prison 20 years after murder of Camden Co. couple

The break in the case came in 2018, when the Perry case became the subject of the podcast 'Undisclosed.' The podcast thoroughly investigated the case, according to the Georgia Innocence Project, and identified an alternative suspect.

When the DNA was tested against a family member of the alternative suspect, it was a match.

How was he exonerated?

In 2020, the Georgia Innocence Project and King & Spalding, the law firm representing Perry, presented the evidence in court but then-Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson refused to give her consent to a new trial.

However, due to the evidence presented by Perry's legal team, Brunswick Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlet overturned the conviction, freed Perry and granted him a new trial in July 2020.

With a new district attorney on the case, the charges were formally dropped in July 2021. 

After two decades behind bars, Perry was officially exonerated of the crime.

RELATED: 'Big Burden Lifted' | Dennis Perry celebrates exoneration after 20-year fight

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