WOODBINE, Ga. — The 35-year-old double murder of a black couple at a rural Camden County church that resulted in the conviction of a white Jacksonville man is being re-investigated.
Citing possible new evidence, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Camden County Sheriff’s Office are reopening the investigation into the 1985 killings of Harold and Thelma Swain.
The couple were shot to death at the Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Woodbine.
Dennis Arnold Perry of Black Hammock Island in North Jacksonville was arrested in the case in January 2000. Perry, now 58, is serving life in prison after being convicted in 2003.
Wednesday the GBI said it will re-examine the investigation determine the significance of the possible new evidence. Agents declined to comment further.
The double murder case has been fraught with controversy over the years as Perry’s supporters long have said he is innocent and have accused law enforcement officers and prosecutors with railroading him.
Harold Swain, 66, and his 62-year-old wife, were in a Wednesday-night Bible study class when they were killed. A slender white man with shoulder-length blond hair entered the church. As eight fellow parishioners watched in horror, the intruder shot Harold Swain then turned the small-caliber handgun on Thelma Swain, according to the Camden Sheriff’s Office at that time.
The gunman cut the telephone lines, fled from the church and drove away in a battered brown car, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Despite an exhaustive investigation and national publicity on television shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries,” no one was ever arrested until Perry was taken into custody 15 years later.
Perry, then 38, was a former Camden County resident. He was arrested without incident after a Camden County grand jury indicted him on two counts of two counts of malice murder.
A six-man, six woman jury in February 2003 convicted Perry of both murders. Perry then accepted two consecutive life prison terms rather that face the death penalty.
Perry has maintained his innocence. No physical evidence linked him to the double slaying. A DNA test before his trial showed he did not match, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last month.
The newspaper also reported that Perry has filed a motion for a new trial. It is pending in Glynn County Superior Court. Perry’s trial was moved from Camden County to neighboring Glynn County, which is where the conviction occurred, according to the Journal Constitution,
The GBI is asking that anyone with information pertinent to the new investigation to contact the GBI at (800) 597-TIPS (8477).