The Megan Williams case involves a 20-year-old African American woman from West Virginia who originally claimed that she was kidnapped, raped and tortured in an allegedly racist attack by six white residents from Logan County, three of whom are women, in August 2007. Among many other things, the suspects were charged with stabbing Williams, dousing her with hot water, and forcing her to eat rat, dog, and human feces. In addition, the suspects were alleged to have hurled racial slurs at her while doing so. The torture and sexual assault was said to have been carried out for about a week.
At the time civil rights leaders, community activists and others asserted that the apparent racial motive made the incident subject to prosecution under hate crimes statutes. Authorities did not initially file hate crime charges in the attack, but prosecutors did not completely rule out such a move down the road. When pressed on the possibility of such charges, authorities said that they were focused on the charges with the toughest penalties, noting that the maximum sentence for a hate crime was just 10 years. One defendant was convicted of a hate crime in the incident.
In October 2009, Williams recanted her accusations against five of the defendants, but still accuses her former boyfriend, Bobby Ray Brewster, of abuse.
Williams had a “social relationship” with Bobby Ray Brewster, one of the six initial suspects. Brewster was previously arrested on July 18, 2008, in connection with a domestic battery charge involving Williams. According to investigators, Williams may have been kidnapped immediately after he was released from jail August 2, when Williams visited his home to see him.
Megan Williams’ account of events
Williams claimed she was set up to be held by the six suspects under the assumption that she was going to a party. “When I first went up there, a girl I knew named Christa, she took me up there, she said we were going to a party. She said she had to make a run and she would be right back. She didn’t come back.”
Megan Williams legal case
Bobby Ray Brewster and five other suspects including his mother, Frankie Lee, 49, Danny Combs, 20, George Messer, 27, Karen Burton, 46, and her daughter Alisha, 23 were all charged with kidnapping, the most serious charge that can carry up to life in prison upon conviction. They were all also charged with at least one count each of first-degree sexual offense, which if convicted, could carry a sentence of up to 35 years in prison. On October 11, charges against Karen Burton were sent to a grand jury. Charges included kidnapping, first degree sexual assault, malicious wounding, assault during the commission of a felony and 13 counts of battery. Charges against the other five suspects are expected to reach the grand jury in January.
In February 2008, Alisha Burton and George Messer both pleaded guilty to assault and kidnapping and were sentenced to 10 years each.
On March 13, 2008, Karen Burton, one of the women involved in the attack, was given one 10-year sentence for violation of civil rights and two 2-10 year sentences for assault. She was the only person involved that was charged with a hate crime. Frankie Brewster received 10–25 years for second-degree sexual assault. They had both pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced sentences. Carmen Williams, Megan’s mother, expressed frustration that they had not received life sentences, which is the maximum penalty for kidnapping.
Bobby Brewster pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and malicious assault. He was sentenced to 13 to 40 years in prison in July 2008. Danny Combs will serve 20 years for conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He pleaded guilty to sexual assault, assault during the commission of a felony, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping or holding hostage in September 2008.
As of October 21, 2009 Megan Williams recanted her story saying none of the abuse or kidnapping took place. Former Logan County prosecutor Brian Abraham called the recantation absurd. Williams’ current attorney Byron L. Potts said Williams now claims that she lied in 2007 because she wanted to get back at her boyfriend, Bobby Brewster. Potts called on the prosecutors to reconsider the case. Brian Abraham the prosecutor in the case said they realized in 2007 that they could not rely on statements by Williams who tended to embellish and exaggerate and built their case instead on statements by the defendants and on the physical evidence.
This case has raised concerns by some media commentators that the race of a victim of violent crime has an impact on media coverage, as Williams is black and her assailants were white. CNN contributor Roland S. Martin questioned why this case and the Christian-Newsom case had not been a source of greater outrage for the public and media than the Vick dog case. Megan Williams, her mother, and Crystal Boyd were featured and interviewed on The Montel Williams Show on March 4, 2008.