Man granted bond after conviction tossed in church killings

Posted at 9:36 PM, July 24, 2020 and last updated 10:36 PM, August 7, 2023

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A man who has spent two decades in custody was granted bond Thursday after his conviction in the killings of a couple at a south Georgia church was overturned.

Dennis Perry, 58, has been serving two life sentences for the 1985 killings of Harold and Thelma Swain, who were killed inside Rising Daughters Baptist Church in Waverly, Georgia, in Camden County.

Brunswick Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett last week tossed Perry’s convictions and ordered a new trial after DNA recovered from the crime scene matched an alternate suspect during reinvestigation of the case.

Scarlett on Thursday granted a request for a signature bond, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is now up to the Brunswick district attorney’s office to decide whether to retry Perry.

Perry’s friends and relatives cheered in the parking lot of the courthouse after the judge’s decision was announced.

“God is good,” Perry’s wife Brenda said, according to the newspaper.

In overturning Perry’s convictions, Scarlett characterized the evidence against Perry as “weak” compared to the new physical evidence against suspect Erik Sparre, 57, of Brantley County.

Sparre allegedly bragged about killing the couple through the years while referring to them with a racial slur. The victims were Black; Sparre is white. Sparre says he’s innocent.

Perry has denied involvement in the deaths since his January 2000 arrest. He was convicted in 2003 largely on the testimony of his ex-girlfriend’s mother, who said Perry had told her he planned to kill Harold Swain. The state didn’t disclose to the defense that the woman was paid $12,000 in reward money for her testimony.

A GBI task force has been reinvestigating the murders since May due to the DNA linking Sparre to hairs found in the hinge of a pair of glasses found next to the victims’ bodies. Perry’s attorneys decided to do the DNA test after learning that reporting by the Journal-Constitution showed that Sparre’s alibi could not be true.

Sparre’s mother, Gladys Sparre, contributed the hair that provided the key DNA evidence that led to the overturning of Perry’s conviction.

Gladys Sparre, 79, was found dead Sunday at her home in Waynesville. She had last been seen alive Friday afternoon, according to the GBI, which is helping in the death investigation. An autopsy has been done and GBI officials said they now await further forensic testing.