Wayne Williams never stood trial for the murder of 20 Black adolescence who went missing and murdered in Atlanta, Georgia, between 1979 and 1981. No person has ever been tried for the most massive serial killings to occur in Atlanta in history. The wheels of justice in 1982, based on the personal belief of the prosecutor, made sure the State of Georgia would never have to prove their prime suspect was guilty of the murder of these Black children.
Nevertheless, one wonders if the Georgia Pardon and Parole Board determined in its collective mind that Williams was guilty of these unsolved murders when deciding in November 2019 to deny parole to Williams.
Williams entered prison when he was 24 years of age, proclaiming from the witness stand under oath that he “did not kill anyone.”
A day after Williams’s conviction for the murder of two adult Black males in 1982, the Fulton County District Attorney, Lewis Slaton, announced that his office suspected Williams in the 20 missing and murdered Black children cases. They were closing the file on those murders. How callous that decision seemed at the time. Can anyone imagine a prosecutorial office anywhere in the country, closing the data on the serial killing of 20 white children without proof of what happened to them?
At the time, I was a second-year law student. My limited legal education suggested that suspicion of murder is not the same as evidence of a crime, and the proof is what is necessary for a court of law to convict a suspect. I’ve been troubled by that decision for the past 37 years.
I’m reminded of it each time I drive across the bridge over the Chattahoochee River — several times a week — where Atlanta detectives staked out looking for a body to come floating down the river on the night they stopped Williams crossing the bridge in his automobile.
Five years after these unsolved cases closed, relatives of over fifty percent of the murdered children pressed Slaton to charge Williams for the murder of their loved ones and bring him to trial, or in the alternative, re-open an investigation into what happened to their children.
He admitted he did not have sufficient evidence to gain a conviction against Williams for these 20 deaths. Slaton assured the families he believed that Williams was guilty of these murders, but Slaton had no proof to back up his belief.
At this time, I am about two years in the practice of law. I found this rationale from the Fulton County District, stultifying.
No proof that Williams killed any of the 20 missing and murdered with malice of forethought, but he is locked up, the key to the jail cell thrown away, and Williams is denied the benefit of trial by a jury of his peers; yet considered guilty, although uncharged.
Usually, a convicted murder in Georgia sentenced to life can expect, with good behavior, to serve 15 years. Williams received two life sentences, which put his anticipated parole date around 30 years. Williams served 32 years before coming up for his first parole hearing. Although non-repentant, by all accounts, Williams is a model prisoner.
His next chance at parole comes in 2027. He will be 69 years old. Williams could have received an earlier parole hearing, but the Board sat the date out as far as the law would permit.
Following a parole hearing in November, Williams received notice of the board’s action via a letter. The board’s stated reason for denying Williams a parole date was “insufficient amount of time served to date given the nature and circumstances of your offenses(s).”
Did the board consider offenses other than the two murder convictions?
If 32 years are not enough punishment for Williams, what difference will 40 years make?
Try convincing the Georgia Pardon and Parole Board that Williams did not unlawfully kill 20 young Black children is like trying to convince the late Lewis Slaton that you can’t convict a suspect without sufficient evidence.
However, if you can get the public to believe that Williams, despite a lack of proof, is guilty, then you can divert attention away from the serial killing of Black children in the Black Mecca, the capital of the old south. And a city too busy to hate, and to busy to protect its children can continue to make money for the upper-tier without missing a single dollar bill.
DeWayne Hendrix, an official in the Wayne Williams Freedom Project, said:
“In all honesty, they’re just hoping Wayne dies in prison. This case is political. It’s always been a political case.”
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.