WAYNESVILLE, Ga. — A woman who provided key DNA evidence that recently led a judge to overturn a murder conviction has died.
Gladys Sparre was found dead in her southeast Georgia home on Sunday by Brantley County sheriff's deputies.
Sparre, 79, was the mother of Erik Sparre. Lawyers for Dennis Perry, who was convicted in 2003 of murdering Harold and Thelma Swain, have pointed to Erik Sparre as a more likely suspect in the 1985 shooting deaths at Rising Daughters Baptist Church in Waverly. That's because Gladys Sparre contributed a hair that provided a potential DNA match to hairs caught in a pair of eyeglasses at the scene that could belong to her son.
Perry's conviction was overturned Friday by Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett after he considered that evidence, as well as testimony from other people who said Erik Sparre bragged about killing the couple through the years while referring to them with a racial slur. The victims were Black; Sparre is white.
Erik Sparre has said he didn’t kill the Swains. However, reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution discredited his alibi that he was at work at a supermarket in Brunswick at the time.
Perry remains jailed awaiting a new trial. He could get a bail hearing this week.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Stacy Carson declined to tell The Brunswick News whether Sparre's death appeared suspicious or appeared to be from natural causes. Sparre was last seen alive Friday.
An autopsy of the body was conducted and GBI officials said they now await further forensic testing.
Wyatt Blount, Brantley County’s chief medical examiner and coroner, said GBI agents were already present when he arrived at the Waynesville home and that he didn't get a chance to examine the body before it was taken away.
Perry, who has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2000, was given two life sentences in 2003, though prosecutors provided no physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted 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.
GBI reopened its investigation into the Swains' death in May.