CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A black woman whose racially charged allegations of horrific abuse helped put several people in prison now says she lied when she alleged she was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and tortured in a ramshackle West Virginia trailer.
West Virginia authorities said in 2007 that Megan Williams, now of Columbus, Ohio, had been stabbed, beaten with sticks, sexually assaulted, doused with hot water, forced to eat animal feces and taunted with racial slurs by seven white men and women. She later said that hot wax was poured on her and that two of her captors had forced to drink their urine.
An unsigned statement released Wednesday by the office of her Columbus lawyer, Byron L. Potts, said simply, “Megan Williams is now recanting her story.” Williams was scheduled to attend a news conference Wednesday in Columbus along with Potts.
Brian Abraham, the former Logan County prosecutor who pursued the cases, expressed skepticism that the story was a lie.
“If she’s going to say that she made it all up, that’s absurd,” Brian Abraham told The Associated Press Wednesday. “This looks like another attempt to generate more publicity.”
Abraham said police and prosecutors realized early in the case that they couldn’t rely on statements from Williams, who tended to embellish and exaggerate details.
Instead, he said, the seven people were convicted based on their own statements and physical evidence. All seven pleaded guilty, and all but one were sentenced to long prison terms.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Black Lawyers for Justice had urged prosecutors to pursue hate crime charges. The lawyers group organized a march on Williams’ behalf in November 2007, while Sharpton addressed a rally in Charleston a month later to urge the filing of hate crime charges. The state NAACP and other black leaders opposed the march, saying prosecutors should be trusted to make the decision.
At the time, Abraham said that because Williams had had a relationship with one of the defendants — Bobby Brewster — it would be difficult to prove a hate crime occurred. Even so, one of the defendants, Karen Burton, pleaded guilty to a state hate crime charge.
Those convicted were Brewster, his mother, Frankie Brewster; Danny Combs; George Messer; Burton; and Burton’s daughter Alisha Burton and son Linnie Burton Jr. Linnie Burton Jr. was the only defendant not to serve jail time; he was convicted of a misdemeanor battery charge and given a six-month suspended sentence.
The assaults occurred at a trailer owned by Frankie Brewster in a rural area of Logan County, about 50 miles from Charleston.
Calls to lawyers for the seven were either not immediately returned Wednesday or were met with refusals to comment. Abraham said none of the seven have appealed.
“This was a very detailed criminal investigation,” he said.
It will be up to the defendants to decide how they will respond to Williams’ statements, said Philip Morrison II, executive director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute.
Morrison questioned whether Williams’ actions would be sufficient to overturn their confessions, saying, “What are they going to say, ’I didn’t really mean that?”’
In late August, a woman who claimed to represent Williams arrived at the offices of The Associated Press in Columbus and said new information on the case would be released at a rally downtown on Oct. 21. A flier announced that Williams was “coming out with the truth.” There were no signs of a rally Wednesday afternoon.
The Associated Press generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Williams and her mother, Carmen, agreed to release her name. Carmen Williams, who died in June, said she wanted people to know what her daughter had endured.
Reactions from people who supported Williams were guarded Wednesday, as advocates talked cautiously about a young woman whose mother once described her as “slow.”
“We did have some concerns about what was being done at the time and how it was carried out by Megan and the family, because of her mental condition,” said the Rev. Audie Murphy, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Logan and Boone counties.
“We feel the legal system will handle it accordingly,” Murphy said. “We didn’t rush to judgment then, and we’re not rushing to judgment now.”
Sharpton, who donated $1,000 to Williams’ family as a Christmas gift, was contacted by Potts on Tuesday, who told Sharpton that Williams wanted to apologize for lying.
Sharpton has sent a letter to Logan County prosecutor John Bennett asking him to look into Williams’ new claims and has urged Potts and Williams to meet with Bennett.
“If Ms. Williams has, in fact, fabricated her story, then I urge your office to vindicate any wrongfully convicted individuals,” Sharpton wrote.
In a phone call to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Sharpton said the matter should be handled delicately, citing “psychological issues” with Williams.
“This isn’t cut and dried either way,” he said. “Right is right, but I have no idea if tomorrow her story will change back.”
Calls to Bennett were not immediately returned.