The problem with the Wayne Williams case, said Morgan Freeman, was that for the most part it was held together by mere threads.
Freeman plays an investigator in "The Atlanta Child Murders" airing Sunday and Tuesday nights on CBS. His character is a fictitious one who also serves as the show's narrator. At the end of the five-hour drama, when Williams has been convicted of two murders out of 29 in question, Freeman's character expresses the doubts about the case that prompted Abby Mann to write and produce the miniseries in the first place.
"They were looking," Freeman said of the Atlanta investigation, "but all they had was the fibers. They couldn't come up with anything but the fibers and this young man."
The fibers in question were carpet fibers of a distinctive weave found on the bodies of the two victims. They matched carpeting in Williams' home. This evidence, presented as compelling because of the relative rarity of the weave, were a key part of the case against Williams. There was no direct testimony indicating he had participated in any killings.
"I believe it was a situation where one person was not responsible for all of the killings," said Freeman. "The first two or three, maybe, but not all of them . . .
"The show would suggest that Williams was an incredibly smart person to get away with so many killings. He was smart, but not that smart."
Freeman is a pivotal player in a formidable ensemble of actors. Jason Robards is cast as the head of the team of defense lawyers; Rip Torn is the district attorney. James Earl Jones plays a fictitious police official he feels will gain him no favor with the audience: his character discourages independent investigation of the case and resists pressure applied by the victims' mothers. Martin Sheen is a former policeman who is sympathetic to the victims' families.
Newcomer Calvin Levels plays Williams. Ruby Dee and Paul Benjamin portray his parents and Gloria Foster plays a victim's mother.
Despite the dissatisfaction of the victims' families, the case largely disappeared from the nation's newspapers after Williams was convicted. "It went away because it was ignored," said Freeman, a seasoned actor who makes his home in New York but hasn't forgotten his Southern roots. "After Williams was jailed, the killings continued, but they were not linked to the series of killings."
Grim business, this matter of serial killings and the question of a man's guilt or innocence. For Freeman, the film had a lighter side. While the production was under way, he married Myrna Colley-Lee, a costume designer. Freeman, 47, has been married before, and has four children and five grandchildren.
He also has one of those familiar faces that is sometimes hard to place. He's done extensive stage work -- he won Obie Awards for "Gospel at Colonus" and "Mother Courage," and the Clarence Derwent Award and the Drama Desk Award for "The Mighty Gents." His film work includes parts in "Teachers," "Harry & Son" and "Brubaker." His TV movies have included "The Marva Collins Story" and "Attica," and he has been a regular on "Another World."
"I was to the manor born," he said, reflecting on his career. "I never had any aspirations in any other direction. Except flying." Which, of course, led him to the Air Force. "I was 16 years old when I went to join. I was sitting in my high school math class dreaming of flying an F-86."
The dream was shattered by reality when he realized that things like fighter planes not only look pretty as they fly through the air, they also hurt people. "Push the red button on the joy stick and those were real bombs, real rockets, real bullets being fired. Mamie Edna," he said of his mother, "didn't raise no killers. I went into the Air Force with the idea of being a hotshot fighter pilot. But the closer I got to it, I realized it wasn't what I wanted. What I wanted was to make movies about hotshot fighter pilots. In the Air Force there was no one there to yell 'cut.'"
Freeman's parents still live back home in Mississippi and he talks about one day returning there. But right now, if you can't find him at home in New York, head for East Chester Bay in the Bronx. That's where he docks his 30-foot sloop. "That's having your own wings," he said of the freedom that's common to the sea and the sky. "That's flying."