The jury in the trial of Shanard D. Rease, accused of murdering Fayetteville resident and next-door neighbor Mimi Perry in May 2019, returned Friday afternoon after a week-long trial, with a verdict of guilty of the charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards sentenced Rease to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a recidivist sentence due to a previous crime for which Rease had been convicted.
The jury was not aware of Rease’s former conviction.
District Attorney Ben Coker after the trial said Rease has three prior felony convictions. The most recent of those convictions, for which he was on probation, was for aggravated assault in Putnam County where he struck a female next-door neighbor with a knife. Her wounds were non-fatal.
The murder trial began Jan. 13 in Fayette County Superior Court. Rease faced charges of felony murder, malice murder and aggravated assault in the May 24, 2019 death of well-known resident Mimi Perry at her Fayetteville home.
The jury was hung on the charge of malice murder, coming to no decision.
The case heard before Judge Edwards was presented by defense attorney Chris Ramig and Assistant District Attorney Dan Hiatt.
Affidavits relating to the charges against 39-year-old Rease in connection with the murder of the 63-year-old Perry said Rease “did cause her death by strangulation and causing a fracture of her hyoid bone (in the midline of the neck) and blunt force trauma to the head.”
Perry resided at a condo on Bay Branch Boulevard off Ga. Highway 54 East. Rease lives next door.
Perry was found in the backyard/patio area near the condo in which she resided. Her naked body was found lying on the ground on her back, with a nightgown/dress lying next to the nearby fence.
The first day of the trial was taken up with jury selection, with the second day beginning with opening statements by the prosecution and defense.
The final day of the trial Thursday came with the testimony of three witnesses and closing statements from the defense and prosecution.
The final prosecution witness was Rodney Hill, Rease’s supervisor at the USP facility in Peachtree City, who was asked to testify because Rease had previously indicated that he received the marks on his arms while at work.
Hill said injuries, whether minor or major, are supposed to be reported by the employee and noted in the company’s system. Hill said no report had been field by Rease.
The defense had two witnesses, with Rease opting not to testify.
Rease’s mother testified that she arrived home at about 6 p.m. on May 24, with dinner then cooked and the two completing eating dinner by approximately 7:15 p.m. The mother said she would have heard him leave the residence if he had done so.
It was around 8 p.m. that officers began to arrive with the body having been discovered outside by a neighbor.
Hiatt asked the mother if she recalled a phone call with her son from jail subsequent to his arrest. It was in that taped conversation that Rease told her that he received the injuries playing basketball. His mother responded that it was possible he said that.
The other defense witness was Mike Dawson, a former coworker who said he and Rease played basketball with Rease on May 25 was no longer employed at UPS. Dawson said Rease played near the goal post, “a rough position.” There was nothing from Dawson indicating that Rease was injured while playing, and the defense did not ask if Rease had been injured while playing.
Rease was arrested on May 27.
In his closing statements, the defense said there were significant deficiencies and flaws in the evidence presented by the prosecution.
It was suggested that the hyoid bone in the neck would likely require both hands to break, yet Rease’s DNA was found only on the fingernails of Perry’s right hand. It was also noted that DNA swabs were not taken from the area around Perry’s neck.
It was also suggested to the jury that Rease would probably not have remained at the residence, subjected himself police and interviews if he had killed Perry.
Among the prosecution’s closing statements, Hiatt again showed a video of Rease’s first contact with police on May 24, just after Perry’s body was discovered. Rease at that time thought Perry’s roommate might live by herself, yet during his subsequent interview he said he knew her.
Also noted was Rease’s supervisor who said there was no injury report filed at work, even though it had been indicated that the injury to Rease’s arm occurred there.
Hiatt suggested that Perry, just before the incident, had evidently taken a shower in her area of the condo in the lower level where she lived. Hiatt said he believed Perry ran out of the residence naked, as evidenced by the grass stains on her feet.
Hiatt maintained that Rease caught her, they fought, he got her to the ground and strangled her.
Hiatt also noted the large amount of DNA evidence belonging to Rease that was found under the fingernails of Perry’s right hand.
The jury on Thursday afternoon was given the case for deliberation. They returned the verdict early Friday afternoon.
Hiatt in the prosecution’s opening statement said the evidence will show that Perry was “viciously and violently attacked by her next-door neighbor (Rease). She made a decision, or instinct, when attacked. She fought back in an effort to save her life.”
Hiatt said he believed the evidence would show that DNA found on Perry’s body, including her fingernails, came from Rease. Perry’s body was found by a neighbor.
Hiatt said when developed as a suspect, investigators noticed injuries to Rease’s arms and back. The crescent-shaped injuries were believed to be fingernail marks that were left by Mimi Perry, Hiatt added.
“The DNA matched,” Hiatt said.
Ramig in his opening statement said that while “There is no doubt this was a horrible crime, that doesn’t mean my client is the murderer.”
Acknowledging that Rease and Perry were next door neighbors, Ramig said Rease’s mother (with whom he lives) later in the trial will testify to his innocence because, “Due to the configuration of the (multi-story) condo, he was on the upper level, there is no way he could get past his mom to get to Mimi.”
Ramig called into question the DNA report, saying it represented “almost all the eggs in the DA’s basket,” adding that there are problems with the DNA that will be addressed later in the trial.
Regarding “touch DNA” which can be left on objects merely by touching them, Ramig said Rease told investigators he had helped Perry move a flower pot. Ramig said he deposited his DNA on the flower pot that Perry could have later touched.
The first witness called was Perry’s roommate, an 18-year resident of the condo. She confirmed that Perry lived in the ground floor portion of the three-level condo that opens up to a patio and the backyard area.
The roommate said the two had returned home around 3 p.m. on May 24, with Perry planning to go to the Whitewater High School graduation at 7 p.m. She said Perry went to her quarters on the first level. Having later gone downstairs, the roommate found the lights and TV on and the door closed, finding that Perry was not in the residence and concluding that she left. It was after that when a neighbor came to the door saying there was a body behind the building, she said.
Also testifying were Fayetteville Police officers Lee Huddleston and Eric Dorsey.
Huddleston responded to the call of a deceased person and had his body camera activated.
Though it showed no close-ups, the video showed naked Perry’s body lying near the corner of the building near her condo and patio, with her legs essentially straight and her arms by her side.
A few feet away next to the fence was a piece of what was described as a purple-colored clothing, apparently a nightgown, shirt or dress.
There was also a clump of hair that appeared to be that of Perry laying in the area of the body, Huddleston said.
Referencing videos from body cameras worn by Huddleston and Dorsey while speaking with neighbors, including Rease, Ramig was told that Rease, wearing a short-sleeve shirt, made no effort to conceal his arms from officers.
The third day of the trail began with a Ga. Bureau of Investigation analyst testifying on the DNA profile reports that were generated. DNA swabs were taken from Perry, Rease and four other people, including her roommate.
The report noted that a DNA examination of the fingernails of Perry’s right hand showed significant DNA evidence under her fingernails. The DNA, in approximately equal volumes, belonged to Perry and Rease.
The frequency of the foreign profile (Rease’s DNA) would be approximately 1 in 1 septillion (1 followed by 24 0s), the analyst said, adding that that compares to the global population of approximately 7.5 billion.
The fingernails of Perry’s left hand had substantially less DNA evidence under them, with the large amount of that evidence belonging to Perry.
Ramig on cross examination asked if Rease’s DNA could have been on Perry’s fingernails as a result of “touch DNA” (also referred to as contact DNA), by Rease having touched something later touched by Perry. His point was that Rease said he had recently helped Perry move a large flower pot inside the home that could have put Rease’s DNA in a position to be picked up by Perry.
The analyst noted that it is possible to transfer DNA in that manner, adding such a transfer is more feasible when certain conditions are met. Examples of such conditions include sweaty hands or handling rough surfaces rather than smooth ones.
A significant amount of time was spent with both attorney’s posing questions, and receiving responses, concerning the intricacies pertaining to DNA transfer.
Hiatt asked the analyst if the volume of DNA found under the fingernails of Perry’s right hand would be expected after handling items or scratching her nails across a rough surface. The analyst answered – “No.”
Responding to a question posed by a member of the jury and relating to the significant amount of DNA found on the fingernails of Perry’s right hand, the analyst said he had performed hundreds of DNA screenings, adding that it is “an unusual result to have that much DNA under fingernails.”
Later in the day, the jury heard testimony from Fayetteville police investigator Sgt. Shawn Albea, who led the investigation and conducted the interview with Rease.
Rease during his initial interview (which was played for the jury), and prior to be named as a suspect, said he did not know anything about Perry being murdered. Rease said he would see her sometimes when he goes out back to smoke, adding that the last time he saw her was earlier during the week she was killed.
Rease said approximately two days before her death he had helped her move the large flower pot, or vase, from the patio into the house where he sat it on the floor.
At one point during the interview, Albea said he observed marks and scratches in a crescent shape on Rease’s arm and forearm and asked if he could photograph those areas, with Albea in his testimony saying the marks looked relatively fresh. Rease agreed to the photographs.
Rease during the interview provided a timeline of his activities on the day Perry was murdered. He said he arrived home from work during the morning hours and later walked to buy cigarettes at a gas station on nearby Ga. Highway 54.
Fayetteville Officer David Cagle, who was also present at the Rease interview, testified later in the day that he had reviewed the multiple cameras at the store, and that he did not see Rease in the video.