Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

The Trial

The trial began on December 28, 1981. The jury was composed of nine women and three men; eight jurors were black and four were white. They were sequestered for the duration of the trial. Opening arguments began in the first week of January 1982.

The defense team was severely handicapped by lack of funds and woefully insufficient time to interview hundreds of prosecution witnesses. They did not have the money to employ the quality of expert witnesses to rebut the vast laboratory findings of the FBI and Georgia crime bureau. Furthermore, the body of forensic evidence on fibers was an order of magnitude greater than what the defense had expected. The cornerstone of the prosecution's case was the fiber evidence, which was highly technical and carried with it the prestige of the FBI laboratories. To successfully cast doubt on the fiber evidence, expensive, very high caliber expert testimony would have been required. Williams' defense team simply didn't have that kind of money.

Also, even though the defense team knew that the prosecution was going to bring in other cases besides the deaths of Cater and Payne, they didn't know how many and which cases would be introduced. For a defense team short on time and short on money, this was a real problem. Dettlinger, who was on the defense team, states: "During the trial, we didn't know who the next witness presented by the state would be or what he or she would be testifying about."

The "Brady" files is the body of information collected by the police and other forensic experts that points towards the innocence of the accused. By law, the prosecution must turn those Brady files over to the defense before the trial begins. The arbiter of what would be included in the Brady files and when it would be turned over was Judge Clarence Cooper, the D.A.'s former prot?. Not surprisingly, the Brady files were withheld until the last possible minute.

For example, thirty-nine-year-old Jimmy Anthony was a neighbor who had known Nathaniel Cater and claimed to have seen him on the morning of May 23 the day after Williams was pulled over for supposedly throwing Cater's body off the bridge. Anthony said Cater told him that he had found a new job. One might suspect that Anthony was mistaken about the time that he had last seen Cater. Yet, three other witnesses, one, who had known Cater well, had also seen him after the bridge incident. Not one of these witnesses would later have a chance to testify in the Williams case. The jury would not be informed of the four witnesses who had seen Nathaniel Cater, as well as many other important suspects and witnesses connected with the case that would have cast doubt on Williams' guilt.

Regarding the time of death of Nathaniel Cater, the defense brought in its own expert who lost credibility when he announced that Cater had been in the water for at least two weeks. Cater had not even been missing for two weeks. A similar thing happened when the defense's expert estimated Jimmy Payne's death.

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