Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

Gearing Up

Gearing Up

Popular black attorney Mary Welcome, a former city solicitor, was the first lawyer on Wayne Williams' defense team. Initially she chose Tony Axam, an experienced attorney on major cases, to complement her skills. However, Williams fired Axam and Mary replaced him with Alvin Binder, a capable, but abrasive white lawyer from Mississippi.

Judge Clarence Cooper (left) & Lewis Slaton (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Judge Clarence Cooper (left) & Lewis Slaton (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Judge Clarence Cooper, the first black judge elected to the Fulton County bench, had been an assistant district attorney for a number of years and was a protégé of District Attorney and prosecutor Lewis Slaton. Interestingly, Fulton County announced that a computer program randomly selected a black judge who just happened to be pals with the prosecution to be the judge on the Wayne Williams trial. Jack Mallard was the most active member of Slaton's prosecution team.

One very controversial situation was that in the case of Jimmy Payne, the Fulton County medical examiner had written that the cause of death was "undetermined." That is, it was not determined that Payne was, in fact, murdered. Recognizing the difficulty in prosecuting Williams for a death that was not clearly a homicide, the medical examiner conveniently changed his document to indicate "homicide."

Dettlinger points out that when confronted with the change in the death certificate which subsequently allowed for Wayne Williams to be indicted in the Jimmy Payne case the medical examiner said he "checked the wrong box" on the death certificate." However, there is no box to check on the death certificate, only a place to type in the word "undetermined" or "homicide."

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