Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

Challenging Evidence

Since the Wayne Williams case pretty much came down to fiber evidence, it's obviously open to serious challenge. Chet Dettlinger is a former assistant to the Atlanta Chief of Police. He and a group of other high-ranking ex-law-enforcement officers independently investigated the case. Dettlinger, now a Georgia attorney, was asked by Williams' defense lawyer, Al Binder, to act as a consultant, and he co-authored, The List, the only book to be published on the case. Among other problems, he saw glaring errors with the way the fiber evidence was presented.

"The 'matching' fibers were taken only from victims," he says. "Only one individual red cotton fiber was found at the Williams home — which can be found in abundance at K-Mart or Walmart — which is similar to fibers in victim Michael McIntosh's underwear. That came from the vacuum sweepings of a car, which the Williamses may or may not have owned at the time that McIntosh was murdered. Not one fiber from any victim was found anywhere near the carpet in the Williams' house.

"Insofar as the Wellman fiber is concerned, they were attempting to demonstrate how rare the fiber in the carpet in 'Wayne Williams' room' was. This ignores the fact that all of the Williamses, and any regular visitor to the home, existed in the same environment."

Dettlinger goes on to pinpoint the central errors in the prosecution's probability analysis as:

  1. They ignored the fact that the same carpet was in all but one or two rooms in the house, including the parents' bedroom and the living room.
  2. They overlooked the fact that Wayne Williams had changed rooms since the last murder on their list. The room they identified as his was actually used by a relative.
  3. They ignored the fact that even in residential applications many of the exact same fibers were dyed the same color and used in rugs which are not the same model number as those used in the Williams' house.
  4. They chose to narrow their analysis to a statistical area that doesn't exist — the southeast. They also failed to allow for the possibility that the killer or killers lived elsewhere and traveled regularly to the area.
  5. They included only fibers said to have been used in carpets for residential applications, ignoring the fact that the same fiber could be found in many apartments and businesses.
  6. They ignored the fact that millions of pounds of the exact same fiber had been sold undyed to other manufacturers for use in applications such as car mats.
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