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Wayne Williams Trial: 1981

Prosecutors Use Microscopic Analysis, Williams Takes The Stand, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Wayne B. Williams
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Alvin Binder and Mary Welcome
Chief Prosecutors: Joseph Drolat, Jack Mallard, and Lewis Slaton
Judge: Clarence Cooper
Place: Atlanta, Georgia
Dates of Trial: December 28, 1981-February 27, 1982
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The trial of the man suspected of being America's worst child-killer was bound to generate immense attention. But did it produce a just verdict?

Beginning in 1979 an unprecedented wave of killings struck Atlanta, Georgia. Over the next two years upwards of 20 young black males were found murdered. In the early hours of May 21, 1981, police staking out the Chattahoochee River, one of the killer's favorite dumping grounds for his victims, spotted a station wagon on a bridge. The driver, Wayne Williams, was questioned but allowed to leave. Two days later, the body of Nathaniel ("Nate") Cater was dragged from the river. Although forensic evidence connected Williams, a 23-year-old black homosexual music promoter, with many of the Atlanta killings, he was charged on only two counts.

Williams' trial began December 28, 1981. Following an adjournment for the holidays, testimony got under way on January 6, 1982. District Attorney Lewis Slaton likened the Atlanta killings to a "jigsaw puzzle with a whole lot of little pieces fitting in." Chief defense counsel Alvin Binder preferred to highlight Williams' solid family background, insisting to the jury: "You don't get a killer from a boy who was raised like this."

Officer Fred Jacobs, part of the surveillance team watching the Chattahoochee River, testified to seeing a station wagon "drive very slowly" across the bridge, moments after hearing a loud splash.

The story was taken up by FBI Special Agent Gregg Gulliland. After being stopped, Williams had given conflicting reasons for being on the bridge, then blurted out, "What's all this about? … I know. This is about those boys, isn't it?"

Challenging the defendant's claim that he had not known either victim, Margaret Carter, an acquaintance of Cater's, stated, "I saw Nate sitting on the bench in the park … with another fellow." She identified Williams as that man.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988