The Atlanta Child Murders: Did Racism Lead to the Conviction of Wayne Williams

The Atlanta Child Murders was a topic at the center of the criminal justice universe from 1979-1981. The Atlanta murders of 1979–1981, sometimes called the Atlanta child murders, were a series of murders committed in Atlanta, Georgia, between July 1979 and May 1981. Over the two years, at least 28 children, adolescents, and adults were killed. In the April 2020, during a HBO Documentary, “Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children,” new evidence was presented, making people wonder if the wrong person was convicted of a crime.

The defendant was a young man named Wayne Williams. Williams was born on May 27, 1958, and raised in the Dixie Hills neighborhood of southwest Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Homer and Faye Williams. Both of his parents were teachers. Williams graduated from Douglas High School and developed a keen interest in radio and journalism. He constructed his own carrier current radio station. He began visiting stations such as WIGO and WAOK, where he befriended a number of the announcing crew and began dabbling in becoming a pop music producer and manager. Williams was often being accused of the crimes because of his suspicion of homosexuality in the early ’80s.

As displayed in the documentary, many of the victims’ parents do not believe that Wayne Williams committed these murders. President Reagan’s startling revelation may have been involved in making sure a young black man was unjustly found guilty of these crimes has stirred controversy. To discuss this matter in greater detail, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in the State of Michigan to gain their insight.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus is known as one of the top researchers in Michigan and has studied the case at length. When asked about the issue, McManus said, “If you watched the appellate testimony, it was heartbreaking. It was clear that the KKK may have been involved, and there were many critical factors left out. Sadly, this case is a perfect example of how difficult appellate work can be. I do not believe that Wayne Williams was given a trial.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo. She is known as one of the top divorce lawyers in the State of Michigan. Kelley provided commentary when she started, “For me, the 1991 hearing showed me that Wayne Williams was not treated fairly by our criminal justice system.  At the hearing, criminal law leaders such as Alan Dershowitz, William Kunstler, and Bobby Lee Cook represented Williams. They displayed facts that the man never deserved to be found guilty. In my opinion, the 1991 hearing was a travesty of justice.”

William Amadeo is a Partner at McManus and Amadeo and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates.  Amadeo is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Michigan and added his thoughts on the topic. Amadeo said, “One thing that always bothered me was how the prosecution hid evidence during that trial. At the Williams trial, the trial made a massive issue about DNA matching the Williams family dog Sheba and how DNA from the canine led to a conviction. In reality, thousands of dogs in the Atlanta area, including many different breeds, possess the type of DNA profile found, but the jury never heard that. More importantly, according to the HBO documentary, a call was made to the Georgia Supreme Court, which prevented justice. The call is alleged to have been caused by either then-President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, or somebody high up the food chain. The reality is that Georgia needed a black man to be convicted of killing black children, whether that man committed the crime or not.  It is a tragic case, and I will never believe that Wayne Williams committed those tragedies.

The only thing that is certain about this case is an array of uncertainty that may never be resolved.

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