Mother found not guilty of son’s murder in DeKalb cold case

Defendant found guilty of concealing boy’s death
The decomposed body of William DaShawn Hamilton, 6, was found near a Decatur cemetery on Feb. 26, 1999, and remained unidentified for more than 20 years. His mother, Teresa Ann Bailey Black, was found guilty Wednesday of concealing his death.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

The decomposed body of William DaShawn Hamilton, 6, was found near a Decatur cemetery on Feb. 26, 1999, and remained unidentified for more than 20 years. His mother, Teresa Ann Bailey Black, was found guilty Wednesday of concealing his death.

A 46-year-old mother on Wednesday was found not guilty of murder in the death of her young son more than 20 years ago, bringing resolution to a case that stumped investigators for decades.

Teresa Ann Bailey Black was found not guilty by a dozen DeKalb County jurors on two counts each of felony murder and cruelty to children as well as a single count of aggravated assault. Black was found guilty of concealing her son’s death.

“We are very pleased that Teresa was found not guilty of five counts,” Ryan Bozarth, who led Black’s defense, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are thankful the jury focused on the facts and the evidence.”

Bozarth said Black’s conviction for concealing her son’s death will be challenged on appeal. She is due to be sentenced on that count by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Stacey K. Hydrick on Friday.

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said she and her colleagues still believe Black is responsible for William’s death.

“While we respect the jury’s verdict, I would be lying if I didn’t say we weren’t disappointed,” Boston said during a press conference Wednesday. “We are glad though that Teresa Black will be held accountable. For decades she tried to hide the truth about what happened to her son, and that decision had far-reaching effects.”

Boston said Black faces up to 10 years in prison. The district attorney said her team will seek a custodial sentence and vigorously defend Black’s felony conviction if it is appealed.

Wednesday’s verdict came after about six and a half hours of jury deliberations, following five days of witness testimony and contrasting case summaries from prosecutors and public defenders.

Black’s son, William DaShawn Hamilton, was 6 when he died. His decomposed body was found by a gravedigger on Feb. 26, 1999, in a wooded area near a Decatur cemetery at the intersection of Clifton Springs and Clifton Church roads.

William’s skull was fractured and his leg tissue contained traces of acetaminophen and diphenhydramine – commonly known as Tylenol and Benadryl. His skeleton was kept in the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office for more than 20 years while investigators worked to find out who he was and how he died.

Prosecutors from the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office alleged that Black gave William a toxic amount of Tylenol and Benadryl and hit him in the head before dumping his body in the woods.

It is undisputed that for 23 years, Black lied about William’s death, telling friends and family he was being cared for by others in Atlanta. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Black eventually moved back there before relocating to Alaska and Arizona, where investigators caught up with her in 2022.

Black’s attorneys from the DeKalb County Public Defender’s Office said she regrets lying about William’s death, but that it was an accident.

Teresa Ann Bailey Black was found not guilty Wednesday of murdering her 6-year-old son in DeKalb County 25 years ago. She was found guilty of concealing his death.

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

Black was 21 when she and William moved in early December 1998 from Charlotte to Atlanta, where they were homeless, her attorneys said. They said Black chose to sleep with William in the woods because it was quiet and safe, and that she was devastated to wake one morning and find him dead beside her.

William had been sick shortly before his death, and Black had given him over-the-counter medicine, her attorneys said. They said she left his body in the woods, fearing that she would be blamed for his death.

Until 2020, investigators knew nothing about the boy whose remains were found in the woods, other than he had been wearing a plaid shirt, red jeans and Timberland boots. They nicknamed him Dennis, hoping his identity would one day come to light.

The mystery was solved when Black’s former friend from Charlotte, Ava McNeil, saw an artistic rendering of the unidentified child and recognized William.

A DNA sample was collected from William’s father, William Harris Hamilton, who didn’t know his eldest child had died until investigators traveled to North Carolina and knocked on his door. Hamilton testified that he and other family members would have looked after William if Black had allowed it.

In Arizona, Black was living with her teenage daughter and longtime partner. The daughter, whose father is Black’s ex-husband, is now 18.

When questioned by investigators in early 2022, Black initially said she didn’t have a son and hadn’t lived in Atlanta. Video footage of the interview, in which Black eventually said she was with William when he died, was played to the jury.

Black chose not to testify at trial. She occasionally wiped away tears while listening to the case as it was presented to the jurors.