Reporting weeks earlier by Sharpe showed Sparre’s alibi the night of the murders could not be true.
Sparre was an initial suspect after his ex-wife’s family contacted authorities and told them he bragged about killing the Swains and used a racial slur. But Sparre, who is white, had an alibi at the time that showed he was working at a Brunswick Winn-Dixie and he was dropped as a suspect.
Sharpe’s reporting showed the supposed manager who vouched for Sparre to the police had given a fake name, and the person who ran the store at the time of the murders never spoke to police. Sparre has maintained his innocence.
AJC Editor Kevin Riley praised Sharpe’s work.
“All of us at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are immensely proud of Joshua Sharpe,” Riley said. “His tenacity, professionalism and skill freed an innocent man. And his work showed the power and value of local journalism.”
Sharpe, who joined the AJC in July 2016, is a native Waycross. He previously worked at the Gwinnett Daily Post and Cherokee Tribune.
“I am outrageously honored and grateful,” Sharpe said. “I am so grateful to the people who helped along the way and for the people who worked on this case before I came along.
“Dozens of people who worked on this case through the years, every one of them, moved the needle,” Sharpe said. I’m grateful to Dennis Perry and his family who put their trust in us and trusted me specifically.”
The Livingston Awards honor reporting across all media platforms. The awards are sponsored by the University of Michigan and numerous foundations.
Hannah Dreier, 33, of The Washington Post, won for national reporting, and Chao Deng, 32, of The Wall Street Journal, won for international reporting. The three journalists each earned $10,000 prizes.
Learn more about The Imperfect Alibi story
Breakdown: Hear the project podcast with reporter Joshua Sharpe
Read the story from July 2020 when Dennis Perry left prison after his conviction was overturned
From the editor: Great reporting, editing yields great story
Full coverage of the murder investigation at a South Georgia Church
Video: Watch a mini-documentary about the project produced by the AJC
A South Georgia couple were killed in church 35 years ago, and a man sits in prison convicted of their murder. Is he the right guy? If not, who is? Journey with us as a single journalist sheds light on a case many believed was over, settled, solved. (Directed by Ryon Horne, Story by Joshua Sharpe, Produced by Tyson Horne and Sandra Brown)