In a flurry of paper broadsides from the bench, Judge Clarence Cooper today charged the parents of Wayne B. Williams with contempt for allegedly violating his gag order after the two retired schoolteachers phoned a radio talk show to talk about the double murder case against their son.
"I know good and well there was no corpse in my house," said Faye Williams, Williams' mother.
She and her husband, Homer, phoned WGST radio Friday night to blast prosecutors for using green carpet fibers and German shepherd dog hairs taken from their son's bedroom and car to show a pattern in the deaths of two young blacks Williams is accused of killing and 10 other deaths, all but one of them on a task force list of 28 murdered youths here.
"Am I the only person in Atlanta who's got a 14-year-old German shepherd dog? Am I the only person who's got green carpet on my floor?" she said.
She said she knew Wayne's whereabouts "every time he went out," hinting at alibis defense lawyers may introduce if she is called to testify. "I don't know who's telling the fib, but somebody's not telling the truth," she said.
It was the first time his parents have publicly defended Williams, who is accused of murdering Nathaniel Cater, 27, and Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, and dumping their bodies in the Chattahoochee River.
Homer Williams, a retired teacher who also may be called to testify, phoned talk-show host Tom Houck 30 minutes after his wife's call.
He said he doubted the jury would be able to understand the "technical" aspects of fiber evidence. "The average person doesn't know about fibers," said Homer Williams. "All they know is that fibers on a body dropped in water are going to be washed away."
He accused prosecutors of finding "street kids" to testify and "putting words in their mouths."
Cooper also cited Dr. Daniel Stowens, a pediatric pathologist from Ithaca, N.Y., for contempt today, after Stowens, a key defense witness, admitted under cross examination that he had granted an interview to The Atlanta Constitution after the judge issued his Aug. 27 gag order. The order prohibits attorneys, law enforcement officers and witnesses connected with the case from making public comment.
Under blistering cross examination by assistant Fulton County District Attorney Jack Mallard, Stowens, who had challenged local medical examiners' findings of homicide in the Cater and Payne cases, conceded that he had performed fewer than three autopsies in criminal cases in the last five years. Maximum penalty for contempt is a $200 fine and 20 days in jail. The contempt hearings are scheduled after the end of the Williams trial.
Attorneys for both sides say they find Cooper's gag order questionable now that the jury has been sworn and sequestered. They also have questioned other courtroom practices of Cooper, who has a practice of calling bench conferences out of press earshot even when the jury is out of the courtroom, reducing the trial to a quasi-secret proceeding at times.
At the start of the trial, Cooper ordered the press not to print or broadcast jurors' names, to protect them from harassment. But after attorneys from several news organizations challenged him for overstepping constititional bounds, he changed his order to a "request."