ATLANTA -- Wayne B. Williams, the only man arrested in the child murders that terrorized Atlanta for nearly two years, goes on trial Monday in a case held together by a loud splash, fibers and the hair of his dog.
The carpet and bedspread fibers, dog hairs, and testimony he was on the bridge where police believe the last victim's body was dumped are the essential evidence prosecutors hope will convict Williams of murdering two of the 28 young blacks slain from July 1979 to May 1981.
Williams, 23, is not charged with any of the other killings.
Superior Court Judge Clarence Cooper has summoned 700 Atlantans to be interviewed as possible jurors. The intense publicity surrounding the case, and the fear that gripped poor black neighborhoods during the murders, is expected to complicate jury selection.
Williams, a black, pudgy, bespectacled freelance photographer and would-be musical talent scout, is is accused of killing 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne and 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater.
District Attorney Lewis Slaton has refused to discuss what other evidence -- if any -- the state has against Williams.
Slaton insists, however, that the fibers, hairs and testimony from policemen who heard a loud splash and saw Williams on a Chattahoochee River bridge are only the 'bare essentials' of the state's case.
Some legal experts feel it will be difficult for Slaton to get a conviction if he doesn't have something to back up the forensic evidence and police testimony.
But they note the most damning fact known against Williams -- while inadmissible in court -- will likely be in the minds of any jury selected, and that is the fact the killings stopped when police scrutiny focused on Williams.
Williams has pleaded innocent to the murder charges.
He will be defended by Alvin Binder, a veteran white criminal defense lawyer from Jackson, Miss., and Mary Welcome, a flamboyant black former Atlanta city attorney with little trial experience.
Observers say the trial, which has drawn international attention, may last two months.
Slaton, who has not handled a murder trial since 1974, will lead the four-man prosecution team. The veteran, white district attorney announced in August he would not seek the death penalty if Williams is convicted.
Cooper, who is black and has been a Superior Court judge less than a year, issued a gag order to all trial principals in August and has already cited Binder and Ms. Welcome for contempt for discussing the case outside of court.
An essential unanswered question is a motive for the slayings, which during the course of the investigation was largely assumed to be homosexual, since all but two of the victims were boys.
Williams emphatically denied he was homosexual when asked by a national magazine reporter in the only interview he has given.
The terror began in July 1979, when the bodies of Edward Hope 'Teddy' Smith, 14, and Alfred James 'Q' Evans, 13, were found in an isolated spot in southwest Atlanta.
But it was mid-1980 before police -- responding to growing citizen protests -- created the special police task force that eventually listed 29 victims, including 10-year-old Darron Glass, who vanished in September 1980 and has not been found.
The list included only two girls and until the final six, all the victims were in their teens or younger. All were poor and black. Six victims, including Payne and Cater, were found in the Chattahoochee River and the rest were found scattered around the city, mainly in its southern reaches.
A month after Williams was arrested, authorities began dismantling the 100-member special task force of local, state and federal lawmen that spent $6 million investigating the murders.
It was a loud splash in the Chattahoochee River before dawn May 22 that ultimately led to Williams' arrest. Moments after a rookie cop staking out the river heard the splash, Williams was stopped after driving across a nearby bridge.
Police released Williams after questioning him that night, but when Cater's body was found near the bridge two days later, lawmen had their first -- and only -- serious suspect.
An open and intensive surveillance was kept on Williams for four weeks before he was arrested on June 21 for the murder of Cater. It was widely speculated that Slaton did not feel there was enough evidence to move in the case, but succumbed to federal threats of a special prosecutor.
Much of the evidence was gathered June 3 and June 22 during massive searches of the modest brick home in northwest Atlanta that Williams shared with his retired schoolteacher parents.
When Slaton took the case before the Fulton County Grand Jury in early July, the panel added a second charge to the indictment -- the murder of Payne, the 26th victim.
During mid-summer preliminary and motions hearings, state crime lab experts and Deputy Police Chief Morris Redding revealed the extent of the fiber evidence against Williams.
Crime lab experts said at least nine carpet and bedspread fibers and dog hairs taken from Williams' home, car and pet German Shepherd matched those found on the bodies of both Cater and Payne.
Redding testified the affidavit he signed to get a warrant to search Williams' home listed fiber and dog hair links to at least eight other victims besides Payne and Cater. Those victims were Terry Pue, Charles Stephens, Earl Terrell, Patrick Baltazar, Aaron Wyche, Clifford Jones, Yusef Bell and Anthony Carter.
Ms. Welcome, before she was stifled by court order, claimed Williams is an innocent victim of circumstance and police anxiety to end the long, costly and emotion-charged investigation.
'I think it is a very unfortunate situation when you sit and allow a splash in the river and threads to cause it to get this far,' she said. 'After two years of investigation, bringing in the big honchos like the FBI, and after they have completely torn up his (Williams') house twice, it is unreal that they don't have any more than they do.'
'Fibers are never as good as fingerprints,' Slaton has admitted, 'but they get pretty close.'
Dr. Robert Stivers, who did the autopsy on Cater, agreed with Slaton.
'You can get pretty close' in matching fibers to a suspect, Stivers said, and the strength of such evidence increases with the number of differing fibers linked to a single person.
'That's where your accuracy comes in,' he said. 'It's the multiplicity that counts.'
The officers who stopped Williams the night of May 22 said they spotted two bags of clothing, dirty gloves and a pair of black shoes in his car, but neglected to confiscate them.
One highly placed source told UPI investigators were looking for those items during their second search of Williams' home and car. Asked whether investigators found the shoes and clothing, Slaton would only say: 'That is intriguing, I'll tell you that.'
The state is expected to offer testimony about a botched stakeout the night Williams came to police attention.
Officer Robert Campbell was stationed by the Chattahoochee River under the Jackson Parkway Bridge and his partner, James 'Freddie' Jacobs, was hiding in some underbrush at the bridge level.
Jacobs recounted the incident at a preliminary hearing.
'Freddie,' Jacobs remembered Campbell saying, 'is there anyone on the bridge up there? Because I just heard a loud splash down here.'
Jacobs said he looked up and saw 'a car close to the edge of the bridge. Normally cars will be out in the middle of the lane. I noticed the aar moving really slowly ... like it was coming from a parked position.'
But Jacobs admitted he never saw the car stopped on the bridge, even though he was assigned to watch the entire length of the two-lane span.
Testimony by other lawmen revealed the car driven by Williams crossed the bridge, turned around in a nearby liquor store parking lot, then sped back over the span.
Two officers in chase cars followed the white Chevy station wagon more than a mile before stopping Williams at an entrance ramp to Interstate 285. When questioned by the officers, Williams denied throwing anything into the water and was released nearly two hours later.
The state may also try to introduce testimony about Williams distributing handbills in Thomasville Heights and other housing projects last year offering 'private' singing auditions for young people who 'would like to become a professional entertainer.'
One of the victims -- 15-year-old Patrick Rogers -- lived in Thomasville and wrote songs. Patrick's mother, Annie Rogers, told investigators her son told her he was 'going to go with some man to a studio to record' the day he vanished.