A young black man who worked part time as a freeland TV cameraman was released today after FBI agents and police grilled him for 12 hours in connection with several of the slayings of 28 young Atlanta blacks.
He was not charged in any of the killings.
Police Commissioner Lee P. Brown told reporters in a 3:30 a.m. press conference that the cameraman was "free to go at any time." The man then donned a paper bag to shield himself from photographers and returned to the modest red brick home in northwest Atlanta where he lives with his parents, both retired schoolteachers.
"We have not ended up with the information that would result in an arrest," Brown said after sources indicated that police were "encouraged" from several items -- some purple cloth, a yellow blanket and a green carpet fiber -- they had carted off from the cameraman's home for study by the state crime lab.
Initial comparisons between fibers found on several victims and those taken from the home, however, were not conclusive, one law enforcement official told Atlanta newspapers.
Later, the freed man proclaimed his innocence to reporters, but he said he believed police had not ruled him out as a suspect.
He said FBI agents had picked him up at 3 p.m. Wednesday and, for the next 12 hours, fired "accusatory questions" about the killings at him. He did not blame the FBI for questioning him, but toward the end of the interrogation, he grew angry. He felt intimidated, harassed. It was the second time he had been questioned by police, he said.
"They were mostly just saying, 'Well, you killed so and so, why did you do it'?"
He took three lie detector tests during his overnight grilling. His answers were "deceptive," he said FBI agents told him. But he said the interrogation had shaken him and affected his answers. He refused protective police custody today; he said he had nothing to hide.
"They openly accused me of killing Nathaniel Cater [the latest victim]," he said. "If all this boils out to be nothing, I have been slandered by the police and the news media."
He is 22, an articulate, pudgy young man with an unkempt afro, an air of self-confidence and an affinity for electronics. As a teenager, he started a neighborhood radio station in his basement and yearned to make it in broadcasting, ambitions which lead him to chase fires and ambulances as a freelance cameraman for WSB-TV here.
He was first questioned and released May 22 after police staking out a bridge across the Chattahoochee River, where six victims have been found, heard a splash and spotted a man apparently drop something into the water. Police said he claimed to have thrown garbage off the bridge. He denies throwing off anything.
The body of Nathaniel, 27, was pulled from the river near the bridge three days later.
He said in a radio interview that he "just happened to cross over the Chattahoochee River to use a telephone when one of the FBI" agents apparently reported that a stakeout officer "heard a splash -- he thinks -- when I was crossing over."
He was questioned and immediately put under surveillance. Police became more interested in him as he roamed widely about Atlanta, often at night, and because he owned radios capable of monitoring police frequencies, radios that cameramen often use to follow breaking news.
Police also were intrigued by the fact that he owned a dog, a possible link since dog hairs were found on several victims.
But he immediately discovered the surveillance and investigators believed they had to move quickly, fearing potential evidence might be lost, sources said. So FBI agents brought him in for questioning Wednesday.
Special task force investigators in a green unmarked police car continued to follow the cameraman today. Commissioner Brown would not say why.