New DNA findings in Atlanta child slayings
AP Exclusive: Tests show Williams not excluded as hair source in slay case
ATLANTA — Convicted killer Wayne Williams can’t be excluded as the source of hair found on the body of one of the victims in the notorious Atlanta child slayings case, according to recently conducted FBI tests detailed in a report provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Mitochondrial DNA tests were conducted on eight hair fragments found on the body of 11-year-old Patrick Baltazar, who was found dead Feb. 13, 1981, and compared to samples of Williams’ DNA taken from a swab of his mouth after a judge ordered the testing in February.
The report said that “due to the closely related sequences obtained from specimens,” Williams “cannot be excluded as the source of the” hair.
The report said the DNA testing showed the mitochondrial DNA sequence from the two sets of samples are the same except in one position. In that position, the DNA sequence has only been observed in 3.4 percent of the black population based on a database available to the FBI, the report said. Williams is black. The sequence hasn’t been observed at all in the white and Hispanic populations, the report said.
The AP obtained the report after an open records request on Tuesday. The request followed conversations with Williams’ lawyers on Monday in which they said they were willing to discuss the results, but would not release the report until their experts reviewed it.
Williams lawyer Lynn Whatley said Monday that he was disappointed the tests were not more definitive one way or another.
“It would seem to me that mitochondrial should have at least said it was in his family,” Whatley said.
Microscopic testing of the hair found on Baltazar’s body also was conducted by the FBI. The hairs were compared using a microscope to hairs taken from Williams’ head and pubic area.
The report said the trace testing showed that the hairs found on Baltazar’s body had similar characteristics to the hair samples taken from Williams. However, in each case of the trace testing the limited size and nature of the hair found on the victim “precludes a more meaningful association.” As a result, the report said, “no conclusion could be reached” from the trace testing “as to whether or not this hair could have originated from Wayne Williams.”
DNA testing is a more exact type of testing than trace testing.
District Attorney Paul Howard has not commented on the report since Monday, but his office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the report to the AP on Wednesday after the open records request.
Between 1979 and 1981, 29 blacks, mostly boys, were killed in the Atlanta area, sparking fear throughout the region.
Williams was convicted of murdering Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, and Nathaniel Cater, 27. After the trial, officials declared Williams responsible for 22 other deaths, including Baltazar’s, and those cases were closed.
Williams has always maintained his innocence, saying he was framed, but has lost numerous court battles. Williams’ lawyers have said the DNA tests they were seeking were not available when Williams went to trial in 1982.
Besides the testing on the hair in the Baltazar case, a Superior Court judge had ordered at the request of defense lawyers that a car seat admitted into evidence along with the clothing from two of the victims be analyzed. The FBI report asks the two sides to contact the agency to dis- cuss testing of the remaining items.
Williams was ordered to provide swabs of saliva and/or blood for the DNA testing.
In June, results from testing conducted by a lab at the University of California, Davis, showed that hairs on the bodies of several of the victims contained the same DNA sequence as Williams’ dog, Sheba.
Williams is serving two consecutive life terms and has already spent more than 20 years in prison.
Whatley said Monday that the defense would have its own experts weigh in on the FBI results over the next few days.
He said he believes there are still unanswered questions in the case.
Regardless of the doubts, legal experts have said that because of Williams’ conviction, the burden lies with him to prove his innocence, and the testing conducted in recent months doesn’t do that.
“Certainly, it does not assist him in any way in meeting his burden of persuasion, that is in showing actual innocence,” said Steve Sadow, an Atlanta defense lawyer not involved in the Williams case.
Sadow added, “I’m certain that he will not give up and this isn’t conclusive in a finite way, but in the legal system this is about as conclusive as it’s going to get.”