Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lost Evidence Key in Slaying Defense; Jacksonville Man on Trial for Deaths

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lost Evidence Key in Slaying Defense; Jacksonville Man on Trial for Deaths

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, Times-Union staff writer

BRUNSWICK -- During testimony yesterday in the trial of a Jacksonville man accused of the 1985 slayings of a husband and wife at a Camden County church, defense attorneys questioned how key evidence could have been misplaced.

Dale Westling, an attorney representing Dennis Arnold Perry, expressed concern about the methods used by the Camden County Sheriff's Office to safeguard evidence.

The evidence was found at Rising Daughter Baptist Church after police said Harold and Thelma Swain were gunned down during a Bible study class.

The missing evidence includes the following:

-- A pair of glasses investigators say were worn by the man who shot the couple.

-- An empty Pepsi bottle that may have had the fingerprints of the attacker.

-- A tape-recorded interview with witnesses.

-- Photographs of possible suspects.

-- A box containing telephone wires to the church that were found cut after the shootings.

-- Buttons from a shirt believed to be worn by the attacker.

"There was no crime scene integrity," Westling said. "There was a significant amount of tangible evidence [now missing]."

Westling also criticized investigators for allowing church officials to clean blood from the floor before samples could be used as evidence.

The man ultimately responsible for safeguarding the evidence, Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith, was blunt with his response about what happened: "I don't know."

Smith testified all the evidence should have remained intact after lead investigator Butch Kennedy quit his deputy's job in 1992, and he didn't know what happened.

"I don't get directly involved in the process," Smith said.

Though only two men are responsible for holding evidence and releasing it to investigators, Smith said nobody has ever been reprimanded for losing evidence that could hold the key to a conviction. …

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