- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

ATLANTA Authorities insist they got the right man. His murder conviction has stood through nearly two decades of appeals. Yet some people think the question remains: Who killed Atlanta's children?

A new cable movie renews the debate over whether Wayne B. Williams, the man convicted of two deaths in what came to be known as the Atlanta child murders, was railroaded by a city eager to end its nightmare.

Williams, now 42, was convicted of killing two of the 29 victims whose deaths in 1979-81 were investigated by a special task force of local, state and federal agents.

Most of the victims were black children, but Williams was charged with the deaths of two adults. Police later closed 22 other cases on the task force list, blaming them on Williams, a black free-lance photographer and self-styled talent scout, without charging him.

Many people, including the mothers of some of the victims, never have been convinced of his guilt. "As parents, we didn't get any justice," says Sheila Baltazar, whose 11-year-old stepson, Patrick, was found dead in February 1981.

"Who Killed Atlanta's Children?," which airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime, stars James Belushi and Gregory Hines as a Spin magazine reporter and an editor who travel to Atlanta to investigate the killings at the urging of some of the victims' mothers. It's produced by Rudy Langlais, a former Spin editor on whom Mr. Hines' character is based.

The film suggests that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation turned up possible Ku Klux Klan links to some of the killings, then covered up or destroyed the evidence. Mr. Langlais says he believes the Klan angle was never fully explored. Williams was unsuccessful in trying to raise it in his appeals.

Robbie Hamrick, who was involved in the task force investigation, recalls the Klan connection as "just another lead that was followed," and no evidence was found to support it.

In one scene, the city's mayor is shown agonizing over the loss of several conventions after the killings. "This is happening on our watch Atlanta's first black administration," he says to some aides. "We're supposed to be the jewel of the New South, not the home of Jack the Ripper."

Former Mayor Maynard Jackson, though not identified by name in that scene, bristles at the depiction of him. "The implication … is that we would not go with the truth in order to save the reputation of the city, which is absurd," he says.

Mr. Jackson says he has never doubted that Williams was the killer, especially since Williams was convicted by a predominantly black jury before a black judge.

Williams' lawyer, Lynn Whatley, says he's glad the Showtime movie is calling new attention to the "premature" closing of the investigation, even though he is no longer using the Klan angle in his appeals.

Mr. Whatley is trying to get Fulton County prosecutors to agree to DNA tests of bloodstains found in cars Williams used. During the trial, prosecution witnesses testified the stains matched the blood types of the only two victims who were stabbed. Mr. Whatley contends DNA tests would prove whether the blood came from those victims.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is considering Mr. Whatley's request. His spokesman, Erik Friedly, says: "We are talking with the crime lab and other people involved to try to get a sense of what, if anything, these tests could actually hope to prove."

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