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Fiber Evidence and the Wayne Williams Trial, Part I

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 53 Issue: 3 Dated: (March 1984) Pages: 12-20
H A Deadman
Date Published
The trial of Wayne Williams illustrates the use and importance of fiber evidence in a trial situation.
In 1982, a court in Georgia found Wayne Williams guilty of murder. An essential part of the case involved the association of fibrous debris removed from the bodies of 12 murder victims with objects from Williams's everyday environment. Although fiber evidence has often been an important part of criminal cases, the Williams trial differed from other cases in several important ways: fiber evidence was used to associate Williams with a large number of victims, fiber evidence was the main evidence, and the case received more publicity than most. Since all people are closely associated with items containing fibrous materials, the transference of textile fibers comes into play in many different types of criminal activity. When it is important to show that contact has taken place, textile fiber evidence can be invaluable. A forensic examiner must determine that a questioned fiber is similar to, or the same as, fibers in the composition of a particular object. The fiber examiner must compare various characteristics and properties which can be observed and/or determined. In addition, many scientific techniques are available for the examination and comparison of these properties. Once it has been determined that there is a fiber match, the significance of the resulting association depends considerably upon whether the fiber type is uncommon or unusual. Collection of fibrous materials from the scene of a crime, from a body, or from any other relevant setting is very important. Tables, photographs, and 10 footnotes are included.