Monday, February 05, 2007

New potential evidence in Atlanta Child Murders case

25 years ago, Wayne Williams was convicted of the infamous Child Murders, despite being believed innocent by many. New DNA testing might reveal that an innocent man has been in prison for 25 years.
The evidence originally presented by the prosecution was hardly airtight. Williams' car was seen speeding away from the dump site of the last victim, who, at 27, was older than the rest of the victims (but was mentally handicapped). The rest of the evidence was based on fibers found on the victims and in Williams' house, and hair found on the victims that supposedly matched Williams' dog. But as the article says, this science was new at that time, and the fibers linking Williams to the victims were common carpet fibers. The DNA evidence was mitochondrial, which is not as exact as most DNA testing.
Even in 1982, some people in Atlanta and around the country questioned Williams' guilt, calling the evidence inconclusive at best. One crime writer I read a while back believes that there was more than one killer in Atlanta at the time, and based on the variety of victims and MOs in the loosely linked cases, I have to agree. Roy Hazelwood, a former FBI profiler who consulted on the case, was positive that the killer was black because a white person would have been easily noticed in the black-populated area of Atlanta where the victims were abducted. That didn't stop the theories circulating that the KKK was responsible for the killings.
While there was evidence linking Williams to the last victim, and he was only officially tried for two murders, he was considered the Atlanta Child Murderer. As with Michael Devlin, the Missouri kidnapper, authorities tried to link Williams to all similar cases. When Bruno Hauptmann was arrested as the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby, it was assumed that he acted alone, and was subsequently executed for the crime. But recently, far too late, evidence has come out that at the very least casts doubt on Hauptmann's exclusive involvement. Charles Lindbergh was not the most cooperative witness, and as a result many potential suspects might not have been discovered. Another former FBI profiler, John Douglas, believes that while Hauptmann likely had something to do with the kidnapping, it was highly unlikely that he acted alone. For instance, when the baby was carried down the ladder, the evidence indicated that two people were involved, one to enter the room and hand the baby off to the other, who was waiting on the ladder. While Douglas is still a strong supporter of capital punishment, the list of potentially innocent inmates either on death row, serving life sentences or already executed should be enough to make one question the ethics of this penalty.
A final unrelated note: I was looking at one of my old posts, where I referred to a short story by Albert Camus. I listed the title as "The Missionary," but the real title, found in Camus' short story collection Exile and the Kingdom, is "The Renegade." Still, it is definitely worth reading, one of Camus' best pieces of writing.

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