Woman in W.Va. torture case now says she lied
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Megan Williams' shocking accusations initially strained the imagination: Seven white people beat her with sticks, forced her to eat feces, raped her and taunted her with racial slurs over several days in a ramshackle trailer in West Virginia.
But the suspects eventually confessed to their actions and pleaded guilty. All but one were sent to prison. Now Williams, who is black, is taking it all back.
Williams lied in 2007 because she wanted to get back at a boyfriend who had beaten her, her attorney, Byron L. Potts, said Wednesday at a news conference in his Columbus office.
Williams no longer wants to live a lie, Potts said.
``She told me the only thing not self-inflicted were the bruises on her face,' Potts said.
Williams, 22, who now lives with a caregiver in Columbus, was in the office with Potts, but she did not appear before reporters. Potts said she has received several anonymous phone calls from people threatening her life.
``She is recanting the entire incident. She says it did not happen, and she's scared,' Potts said.
Seven white men and women were convicted in the case, in which Williams had also said that hot wax was poured on her and that two of her captors had forced her to drink their urine.
Police said the assaults occurred at a trailer owned by Frankie Brewster in a rural area of Logan County, about 50 miles from Charleston, W.Va. Williams was rescued after an anonymous caller alerted authorities.
Potts said that Brewster's son, Bobby, was the boyfriend who had beaten Williams and that she had stabbed herself with a straight razor to help embellish the story of being tortured.
Prosecutors, who knew about the relationship even during the case, dismissed Williams' new claim, and lawyers for the defendants would not discuss their plans. Williams' supporters were cautious about responding to the statement by a woman whose mother described her during the 2007 case as ``slow.'
Potts urged prosecutors in West Virginia to re-evaluate the case and he said that Williams wants people convicted to be released from prison.
Brian Abraham, the former Logan County prosecutor who pursued the cases, said authorities realized early in the investigation that they could not rely on statements from Williams, who tended to embellish and exaggerate details. Instead, he said, the seven defendants were convicted on their own statements and physical evidence.
``If she's going to say that she made it all up, that's absurd,' Abraham said. ``This looks like another attempt to generate more publicity.'
Potts said he did not know why the defendants have pleaded guilty to something they did not do.
He said Williams is aware that she could face legal consequences for fabricating the story and that he wants to have her psychologically evaluated. He said Williams told him certain people were controlling her and influencing her during the case. He did not elaborate.
In a January interview with The Call & Post, a black newspaper in Cleveland, Williams acknowledged she had been mistreated but said her mother made her embellish the story for exposure and financial gain. Williams told the newspaper that she was afraid of her mother, who knew some of the defendants.
Williams' mother, Carmen Williams, died in June. Potts said he did not know what role the mother might have had in fabricating the case.
The assaults occurred in September 2007 at a trailer in a rural area of Logan County, about 50 miles from Charleston. In an interview the following month, Williams told The Associated Press she thought she was going to a party and tagged along with a woman she barely knew.
Williams said she was held captive for several days and was tortured, beaten, and forced to eat rat, dog and human feces. She was also raped by a group of white men and women.
A passer-by heard cries from the shed where she was kept, and sheriff's deputies responding to an anonymous tip found her hours later, limping toward the door, her arms outstretched, saying, ``Help me.'
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who donated $1,000 to Williams' family as a Christmas gift, and a group called Black Lawyers for Justice had urged prosecutors to pursue hate-crime charges.
The lawyers group organized a march on Williams' behalf in November 2007. Sharpton addressed a rally in Charleston a month later.
At the time, Abraham said that because Williams had had a relationship with Bobby Brewster, it would be difficult to prove that a hate crime occurred. Even so, one of the defendants, Karen Burton, pleaded guilty to a state hate-crime charge.
In a phone call to the AP 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.'
Those convicted were Bobby and 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.
Lawyers for the seven did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday or declined 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?''
The AP generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Williams and her mother agreed to release her name. Carmen Williams had said she wanted people to know what her daughter had endured.
People who have supported Williams were guarded Wednesday.
``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 in West Virginia.
``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 has sent a letter to Logan County prosecutor John Bennett asking him to look into the new claims.
``If Ms. Williams has, in fact, fabricated her story, then I urge your office to vindicate any wrongfully convicted individuals,' Sharpton wrote.
In 1987, Sharpton helped advise and served as a spokesman for 15-year-old Tawana Brawley, who claimed she had been kidnapped and raped by a gang of whites that included law enforcement officials. A grand jury concluded that Brawley, who is black, made up the story.
Bennett said Wednesday that he would not be able to investigate the case because he represented one of the seven who were convicted, but Morrison said that would be for a judge to decide.