Georgia reopens case of couple murdered in church due to DNA evidence

District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who requested the case to be reopened, most recently recused herself from the Ahmaud Arbery murder case

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is reopening the case of the 1985 murders of Harold and Thelma Swain. Authorities may have arrested the wrong man.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is reopening the case of the 1985 murders of Harold Swain and his wife, Thelma Swain. The couple was shot inside the Rising Daughter Baptist Church during bible study.

35 years ago, witnesses stated that the killer was a white man, who walked into the church and aggressively confronted Harold who was a church deacon. Now authorities are wondering if they nabbed the wrong man.

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Investigative reporting performed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the man who was convicted of the crime, Dennis Perry, is not a match for the DNA evidence found at the scene. This DNA was collected off of a pair of glasses. Independent researchers tested the glasses and discovered that the match was for someone in the family line of a different suspect, Erik Sparre.

Dennis Perry

Dennis Perry Mugshot

The Georgia Innocence Project and the King & Spalding law firm recently filed for a new trial for Perry. Perry has maintained his innocence for 20 years.

The Swain couple’s murder was a cold case for over 15 years before Perry’s arrest in 2000. In many ways the couple’s murder became a pop culture interest, even being featured on Unsolved Mysteries.

However, in 2018 on the investigative podcast, Undisclosed made a shocking discovery. The episode revealed that a key witness in the trial was paid $12,000 in reward money for her testimony.

This news prompted the AJC to do their own research on the case.

According to Joshua Sharpe, one of their investigative reporter for the newspaper, a 6,000-page investigative file was examined to find the truth. He also listened to a 24-hour-plus podcast about the case. He interviewed dozens of people, including Perry and former suspect Sparre, as well as with investigators who worked the case, relatives of the victims, and many others.

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The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will review the case after being asked to do so by the Brunswick County District Attorney Jackie Johnson. She requested the case to be reopened more than six weeks after learning of the new DNA evidence.

Johnson may have additional motivation to investigate the crime. She is the same DA who recused herself in the prosecution of Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery in February.