BIG CREEK, W.Va. – State and federal officials decided Wednesday to pursue state charges that carry the stiffest penalties in the brutal kidnapping and weeklong torture of a black woman in Logan County, but the six suspects will not face federal hate crime charges.
While hate crime charges remain an option, U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller said officials decided to defer to the Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham in pursuing state charges that have already been filed.
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"We're going to focus on the core aspect of the case that carry more enhanced penalties," Abraham told The Associated Press.
Kidnapping carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison and sexual assault carries up to 35 years in prison. The maximum penalty for a hate crime is 10 years.
"Because of the serious nature of the pending charges in Logan County, both in the factual allegations and in the potential penalties if the defendants are convicted ... we believe it is appropriate to defer to the Logan County prosecutor in pursuing the state charges against the defendants," Miller said in a prepared statement.
Megan Williams, 20, who is black, was tortured for days at a remote hillside home in Big Creek, sexually assaulted and forced to eat rat droppings.
Williams' captors, all of them white, also choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her a racial slur, poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, according to criminal complaints.
At one point, an assailant cut the woman's ankle with a knife and used the N-word in telling her she was victimized because she is black, according to the criminal complaints
It wasn't until an anonymous tip led Logan County Sheriff's deputies to the property on Saturday that her ordeal ended. She limped toward the deputies, her arms outstretched as she cried, "Help me!"
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network in New York City, said Wednesday that he was "outraged" by the crime and commended the Logan County Sheriff's Department for "what appears to be a thorough investigation."
He also urged the country to pray for Williams' "full physical, emotional and spiritual recovery."
She remained hospitalized Wednesday in Charleston.
Abraham said Williams was not a random target and that she had had a previous relationship with Bobby Brewster, one of six suspects now in custody.
He was charged in July with domestic battery and assault after a domestic dispute involving the same woman.
"She obviously had some sort of social relationship," Abraham said. "That is based on the fact that she was present at his residence on a prior date."
The Associated Press generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Williams and her mother, Carmen Williams, agreed to release her name. Carmen Williams said she wanted people to know what her daughter had endured.
The suspects in the case have previous arrest records going back several years, according to records from Logan County Magistrate Court, and Abraham said he had "some familiarity with all those individuals."
Since 1991, police have filed 108 criminal charges against the six.
Brewster's mother, Frankie Brewster, 49, faced the most serious charges among them. She was charged in 1994 with first-degree murder, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges of manslaughter and wanton endangerment. She was released from prison in 2000 after serving five years in the death of 84-year-old Polly T. Ferrell, court records show.
In Williams' case, Frankie Brewster is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and giving false information during a felony investigation.
Bobby Brewster, 24, also of Big Creek, is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and assault during the commission of a felony.
In March, Brewster was accused in criminal complaints of attacking his mother with a machete at her home, according to court records. The disposition of those charges — domestic assault, brandishing a deadly weapon and obstructing an officer — was not immediately clear.
Danny J. Combs, 20, of Harts, is charged with sexual assault and malicious wounding.
Karen Burton, 46, of Chapmanville was charged with malicious wounding, battery and assault during the commission of a felony.
Burton's daughter, Alisha Burton, 23, and George A. Messer, 27, both of Chapmanville, are charged with assault during the commission of a felony and battery. She previously faced charges of assault during the commission of a felony and battery; in May, she was accused of striking Messer with a shovel and smashing the window of a woman's car. The charges are pending.
All six remained in custody Wednesday on $100,000 bail each. Bobby Brewster is scheduled to appear before a Logan County Circuit Court judge on Monday to be arraigned on the kidnapping charge, according to court records. A date for his mother's appearance on the kidnapping charge has not yet been set.
Public Defender Dwyane Adkins, appointed to represent Bobby Brewster, and Public Defender Betty Gregory, appointed to represent Karen Burton, declined to comment on the case. The other defendants' court-appointed lawyers were either in hearings or did not immediately return telephone calls Wednesday.