Police Files in Atlanta Child Slayings Unsealed
ATLANTA (AP) _ City officials bowed to a court order and unsealed police files in the Atlanta child slayings, but Mayor Andrew Young said today the judge’s decision was a mistake and threatens the police’s ability to conduct investigations.
Files concerning 20 young Atlanta blacks who disappeared from 1979 to 1981 were released Thursday after a judge turned aside a last-minute plea by the city to keep the files secret.
The cases were closed after the 1982 conviction of Wayne Williams in two of the killings. Prosecutors blamed him for 22 additional killings but brought no further charges. Five cases officially remain unsolved.
Williams, a black free-lance photographer, was sentenced to life in prison on each of the two murder convictions. His lawyers are preparing an appeal.
Public Safety Commisssioner George Napper said there is nothing in the files to make police believe they charged the wrong man.
Napper said Thursday he still believes the released files contain embarrassing and sometimes unsubstantiated information about one-time suspects and relatives of victims.
At a news conference today, Young said, ″I think the news media is wrong (to seek access to the files) and it undercuts the criminal justice system.″
″If the media misuse the information, I hope the mothers (of the victims) sue, and I hope the city will be there with them as a friend of the court.″
WSB-TV, one of the news organizations which obtained copies of the files Thursday, said a police report quoted the mother of one victim as admitting that she was a prostitute. The station said several close relatives of victims were once considered suspects.
Mothers of two of the victims said they would examine the reports about their children. Gaining the information, said one, is worth the potential emotional pain.
″I’m just willing to deal with the hurt,″ said Venus Taylor, mother of 12-year-old victim Angel Lanier. ″I’m dealing with the hurt of losing her and never having her again.″
Ms. Taylor and Willie Mae Mathis, mother of 10-year-old victim Jeffery Lamar Mathis, said they would go to Atlanta police headquarters for their first look at the files.
″The parents don’t know what happened to our children,″ said Mrs. Mathis. ″The police didn’t tell us anything.″
She said seeing the files will allow the parents to ″know a little bit more about our children. We’ll feel much better.″
The files were released Thursday only to the parties in a lawsuit against the city. Napper said others who want the files must submit a written request, which would be answered within three business days.
Copies of the files cost about $1,500, he said. But Young said that the mothers would be given the files pertaining to their children free of charge.
The Atlanta Journal, The Atlanta Constitution, WSB-TV and ABC News went to court last year in an effort to force the city to release the files. The newspapers said they received the files about 1 p.m., an hour after the deadline for release imposed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Luther Alverson.
WSB-TV reported its early review of the files also turned up music and lyrics written by Williams, who once operated a small radio station and billed himself as a music promoter.
″Love and hate go together hand in hand,″ the song said.
In addition to its complaints about the release of embarrassing information, the city had contended release of the files could jeopardize any future retrials of Williams that might be ordered on appeal.
The files of two victims, 13-year-old Clifford Jones and 12-year-old Charles Stephens, were released in December and January on Alverson’s orders. Police have said another file, that of victim Terry Pue, is missing.
On July 17, the judge ruled that the city must make public the case files of Pue and 20 other cases. The city asked Alverson to reconsider that order, but the judge refused after a 2 1/2 -hour hearing Wednesday.