Wayne Williams Guilty" flashed across television screens all over the city Saturday night, closing a traumatic chapter in the city's history. Warren Stephens, a black fourth grader who has spent much of the last two years looking over his shoulder for "the snatcher," was watching "Terror of Godzilla" when the news came.
"I'm still afraid," he said today, as a dozen Sunday school classmates at Wheat Street Baptist Church nodded in agreement. "I just don't believe Wayne Williams was the only killer."
Williams, 23, a self-styled music promoter and freelance TV cameraman, was convicted by a jury Saturday of murdering Nathaniel Cater, 27, and Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, two in a string of 28 killings of young blacks that terrorized Atlanta for almost two years.
Williams maintains that he is innocent, and plans to appeal. Several mothers of victims in the unsolved killings have said they, too, think he is innocent and didn't get a fair trial. Camille Bell, mother of victim Yusuf Bell, 9, and a founder of the controversial Committee to Stop Children's Murders, called the trial a "kangaroo court."
Such doubts trouble others in this city, in spite of Williams' convictions and reports today that authorities are likely to close down the special police task force because they believe the primary killer has been caught and convicted.
"I would expect the majority of the cases to be closed," said Fulton County Police Chief Clinton Chafin. "It'll just be a mopping up. This Williams is the only lead that you have. I'm glad it came out the way it did because I think it came out the right way."
The investigation by the task force that once exceeded 100 federal, state and local police officers resulted in charges being brought in just the two cases. But authorities said they believe circumstantial and fiber evidence appears to link Williams to all but two of the other killings and no longer feel there is a need to keep the task force.
A police affidavit connected Williams to 20 killings through such evidence months ago, but authorities now say they believe he is linked to all the murders except those of two young girls. He was not prosecuted for the other killings, said officials, because the evidence was not as strong as in the cases of Cater and Payne.
"There is not enough evidence to prosecute, but there is enough evidence to close out" more than 20 cases which can be linked to Williams, said Fulton County District Attorney Lewis Slaton, who successfully prosecuted the two murder cases. He cited Timonthy Hill, 13, as an example of one victim whose case was not introduced at the trial.
For one thing, he said, a witness testified that he saw Williams and Hill together. And Hill's body wound up in the Chattahoochee River, like many victims.
Williams was sentenced to two consecutive life terms Saturday. Under Georgia law, if he is prosecuted and convicted of another murder, he could get the death penalty.
Chafin said that prosecutors and task force investigators will reexamine each of the remaining cases "to see which ones are definitely linked" by fibers, location of the bodies, and cause of death.
But one prosecutor voiced doubts that there would be enough evidence to bring further indictments. "We've never felt that we've had enough evidence to effect an arrest and seek an indictment" on the five cases in his jurisdiction, said De Kalb County district attorney Bob Wilson. "At best, we've got the same situation Fulton County had, minus the bridge incident in the Cater case. It would be a farce to continue on forever."
Williams became a suspect when he was stopped for questioning last May after police on a stakeout heard a splash in the Chattahoochee River and stopped his car near a bridge. Two days later, Cater's body washed up downstream.
During the sensational nine-week double murder trial, prosecutors were allowed to introduce evidence from 10 cases to show a pattern. Williams was linked to 12 victims by more than 700 tiny fibers and dog hairs plucked from the victims that matched material from his home and car. Eyewitnesses placed him with several victims.
Among those murders was Harold Porter, who was never added to the task force list, but was considered a 29th victim. An official close to the investigation confirmed a report in The Atlanta Constitution newspaper today that fibers or circumstances link Williams to 27 murders.
Officials are expected to meet this week to discuss disbanding the special police task force and referring the cases of Angel Lanier, Latonya Wilson and Darron Glass (missing and presumed dead) to homicide detectives.
"We're hearing all the cases are closed," said Alvin Binder, Williams' defense attorney who met with his client today and reported him to be "holding up pretty well. But he had hoped the investigation would continue because if anyone of the pattern or any other of the murders was solved, that would tend to exonerate him. What is going to help Wayne is finding or solving a murder in that pattern which would completely blow the wraps off this thing."
Several members of the victims' families shared doubts about the verdict. "I still don't know if they have the right man," said Evelyn Payne, sister of Jimmy Ray Payne. "I don't think the man who killed my brother was brought to justice. If he Williams didn't do it, I feel sorry for him."
Alonzo Cater, a city sanitation worker who sat in on the trial, said he still wasn't sure if Williams had killed his son, Nathaniel, a day laborer with a drinking problem. "I think he got a fair trial, but I'm not sure he's guilty," he said. "I just hope they got the right man."
And Camille Bell, who helped the defense team track down leads in the case, said the trial only proved one thing, "that there is no justice in America. The defense had to prove Wayne innocent. It's supposed to be the other way around."
"Are they just going to forget about our black children?" asked Annie Rogers, mother of victim Patrick Rogers, 15.
Yet other parents of black children breathed easier today as they strode down Auburn Avenue into the Wheat Street Baptist Church. But several doubted they would ever allow their children the same freedoms as before the tragedy.
"I'd just feel better about it if someone else was brought to trial and convicted for the other killings," said Regina Tucker, 31, a pillow designer who dispatched her daughter to live with relatives in Kentucky during the height of the murders. "I'm still strict with my kids."
Williams' mother, Faye, who stuck by her son throughout the trial, said her son was convicted because of collusion between the "conniving prosecutors" and an "Uncle Tom" judge, Clarence Cooper. As her husband, Homer Williams, strode past the prosecution table after his son's conviction Saturday night, he glared at prosecutor Slaton and growled, "Son of a b----."
Mayor Andrew Young was among those who praised the jury and the judge. The verdict, he said, was reached "by people who sat solemnly listening to the testimony in great detail for many weeks . . . . We have to defer to their judgment."