Serial Murders Clouded Williams' Claim of Innocence Gains Support

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- The once-secluded ravine where two black boys were found dead 20 years ago this summer is now surrounded by upscale homes. And playmates of those boys now have young children of their own.

The boys -- 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith and 13-year-old Alfred Evans -- were the first of 29 slain young blacks who collectively became known across the nation as Atlanta's missing and murdered children.

The 1982 conviction of Wayne B. Williams in the slayings of two adults, and authorities' decision to blame him for 22 of the other murders without trials, ended the official investigation.

And for many people, the memory of the murders has faded.

But nagging questions about how the investigation was handled, the release of voluminous police files and interminable court appeals have kept alive debate over Williams' guilt.

Williams, 41, continues to proclaim his innocence while serving life in prison. And with his latest appeal filed with the Georgia Supreme Court -- no hearing date is set -- his supporters now include relatives of some of the slain children, former investigators in the case and a retired state Supreme Court justice.

"Most people who are aware of the child murders believe as I do that Wayne Williams did not commit these crimes," said DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey, who, as an Atlanta homicide detective, supervised the first search of Williams' home in 1981.

Dorsey first voiced public doubt about Williams' guilt more than a decade ago, citing the 1980 case of 13-year-old Clifford Jones. Police files list five witnesses, including one who claimed to have seen Clifford strangled by a man who was not Williams.

That man, now deceased, appeared at the time to be a prime suspect in the slayings, said Joe Drolet, who helped prosecute Williams. But Drolet said the eyewitness proved unreliable and key parts of his story were contradicted by physical evidence.

Willie Mae Mathis, whose 11-year-old son, Jefferey, was killed in 1980, said she changed her mind about Williams after Jefferey's brother met the convicted killer in prison and became convinced of his innocence.

"Wayne is guilty of being nothing but stupid," said Mathis, who is organizing other victims' relatives to push for a reopening of the investigation of the child murders.

The pending appeal is based on a judge's rejection of Williams' latest effort to gain a new trial. Williams claims that prosecutors withheld key evidence.

Prosecutors say that the judge's rejection, and the record of Williams' trial, clearly establish his guilt. …