The legal system admitted Monday what Dennis Perry already knew — he was an innocent man.
Perry was convicted in 2003 of the 1985 murders of a black couple in a south Georgia church and received two consecutive life sentences. On Monday, under the weight of new evidence that included a DNA test, the charges against him were officially wiped from the books.
Although Perry, now 59, was released on bond a year ago after DNA evidence tied another man to the crime, having spent 20 years in jail both before and after his trial, the old indictment hung over his head.
On Monday, Brunswick District Attorney Keith Higgins called for the charges to be officially dropped, saying he was there to “right a wrong,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He said he met with Perry’s family and consulted with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“They gave me their blessing and approval to bring this motion to the court,” Higgins said at the hearing, according to WAGA-TV.
“When I met with the GBI, they also expressed the opinion that they did not believe that Dennis Perry committed these murders and they gave me their blessing as well.”
Perry offered a short speech in court.
“After what happened to me, I lost faith in the justice system. I’m sure you can understand that,” Perry said, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Although police have identified the DNA found at the scene as belonging to another man, that man has not been charged with the crime.
Perry said he prayed for justice for the victims.
“I pray every day for justice for Harold and Thelma Swain. God bless you,” he said.
Just moments ago, Brunswick Judicial Circuit Judge Stephen Scarlett signed an order FULLY EXONERATING Dennis Perry of the 1985 church murders of Harold and Thelma Swain.
Dennis’ exoneration is the result of an amazing effort by GIP, King & Spalding, and YOU! pic.twitter.com/bZv3MHi8KN
— Georgia Innocence Project (@GaInnocence) July 19, 2021
“You just can’t fathom it that someone had 20 years of their life taken away from them,” said Suzanne Baugh, Perry’s cousin, according to WAGA.
Baugh had harsh words for prosecutors, who at the time of Perry’s conviction did not reveal that a key witness against him — his ex-girlfriend’s mother — received $12,000 in reward money to testify.
“I was livid that they hid it from Dennis’s attorneys,” Baugh added. “I was livid that it was so crooked.”
The Georgia Innocence Project helped free Perry.
“The prosecutor was seeking the death penalty and the jury convicted him based on remarkably flimsy and unreliable evidence,” said Clare Gilbert, the GIP executive director, who noted Perry stayed off of death row by waiving his right to appeal.
“We need to think about some real reforms to make sure that things like this don’t continue to happen in the future, or they can be corrected more easily,” she said.
Although Perry is free, Georgia is a state where those wrongfully convicted are not automatically entitled to compensation.
“It was all taken from me,” Perry said, according to the Journal-Constitution.
“At this time in my life, I should be able to have my finances in order so my wife and I can think about retirement. Instead, I have no income. My health is no good, and I must start all over again. I am grateful this part of the nightmare is behind me. Yet I will deal every day with what happened to me,” he said.
Perry seconded Gilbert’s calls for reforms.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Perry said, according to WAGA.
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