"THE ATLANTA CHILD MURDERS," Sunday 8-10 p.m., Tuesday 8-11 p.m. (2) (8) (illustrated on cover)--The headlines have faded, but the sense of shock is easily recalled. Between July, 1979, and June, 1981, Atlanta was besieged by a murder spree that ultimately claimed 29 blacks--most of them young boys.
Finally, amid the glare of national publicity, a 26-year-old man named Wayne Williams was arrested, brought to trial and convicted of killing two of the adults on the list of victims. Police closed the book on 23 of the remaining 27 murders.
An account of that frenzied period in Atlanta's history now comes to CBS in "The Atlanta Child Murders," a five-hour miniseries that is being broadcast in two parts on Sunday and Tuesday.
And a disturbing account it is--not simply because of the subject matter but because of the questions that writer and co-producer Abby Mann raises about the case against Williams.
The CBS drama casts doubt on the evidence against Williams and questions whether Atlanta law enforcement officials were too quick to drop their investigation of the child murders, considering that Williams was not convicted in any of those cases.
Mann, whose credits include "Judgment at Nuremberg," "Ship of Fools," "A Child Is Waiting" and "King," also has tried to raise even larger questions--about the erratic way our society dispenses justice, and the uncaring way that it sometimes treats its children.
An impressive cast, under the direction of John Erman, was assembled for this ambitious undertaking. Pictured on the cover are Calvin Levels, who plays Williams; Jason Robards, who portrays the head of Williams' defense team, and Martin Sheen, who plays a policeman who resigns to help the families of the victims.
Others on hand include Rip Torn as the district attorney, James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman as police officers, Ruby Dee and Paul Benjamin as Williams' parents and Gloria Foster as the mother of one of the murdered children.