A fiber expert from the Georgia State Crime Laboratory testified today that fibers found in Wayne Williams' house and car match six different types of fibers recovered from the body of Jimmy Ray Payne and five different types of fibers taken from the body of Nathaniel Cater.
The testimony by microanalyst Larry Peterson was the first scientific evidence introduced in Williams' trial linking him with the two black men he is accused of murdering. Cater, 27, and Payne, 21, were among the last victims in a string of 28 slayings of young Atlanta blacks being investigated by a special task force and the FBI.
"In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that any environment other than that present in Wayne Williams' house and car could have resulted in the combination of fibers and hairs I found on Mr. Cater and Mr. Payne," Peterson said.
Under cross-examination by Williams' lead defense lawyer, Alvin Binder, Peterson admitted that "there is no scientific means available to draw conclusions based on fiber evidence." He said his statements about the likelihood of contact between Williams and his alleged victims is based on his judgment as a microanalyst.
Peterson said he found fibers on both Payne and Cater that matched fibers from Williams' green bedroom carpet, his violet and green bedspread and a yellow blanket found under his bed during the first police search of his house on June 3, in which Peterson assisted.
When police returned to Williams' house on June 22, the day after his arrest, they seized the carpet and the bedspread, but Peterson testified today that he could not find the yellow blanket anywhere in the house.
Other fibers from Payne's body matched fibers in a blue bath mat found in the storage area of Williams' house, the carpeting in his 1970 Chevrolet station wagon, and blue rayon fibers from an unknown source that were found in vacuum sweepings from both the house and car, Peterson testified.
Other fibers from Cater's body matched fibers in green carpet squares in a back room that Williams used as an office, and yellow-green tufts of fibers found in the rear seat area of his station wagon, Peterson testified.
Peterson said green fibers from the bedroom carpet and violet fibers from the bedspread were darker in color than fibers he took from the two victims, but attributed that to the bleaching effect of water in the Chattahoochee River. The bodies of Payne and Cater were recovered from approximately the same spot in the river about one month apart last April and May.
Peterson said he conducted tests on fibers from the carpet and the bedspread, leaving them in jars of river water for three days. The river water bleached the fibers, but Peterson admitted under cross-examination that he could not bleach them as white as the fibers found on the two bodies.
In his cross-examination, Binder tried to shake Peterson's conclusions about fiber matches, and also tried to suggest that some of the fibers on Payne and Cater could have come from the Chattahoochee River or the police officers who retrieved the bodies.
In several instances, however, Binder's technique appeared to backfire. Although he had not mentioned it in his direct testimony, Peterson told Binder he had matched cotton fibers from the two bodies with fibers from Williams' bedspread or found in his car, but could not consider the match signficant because cotton fibers are so common.
Nevertheless, prosecutors appeared pleased that the jury heard testimony about the cotton fibers.