A woman who claims her 2007 kidnapping and torture ordeal was a lie is being manipulated, according to a lawyer who once spoke on her behalf and raised thousands of dollars for her.
Malik Shabazz, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Black Lawyers for Justice, told The Associated Press Thursday he has no doubt Williams, who is black, was really tortured by a group of white people in Logan County in 2007. Shabazz is also national chairman of the New Black Panther Party.
Shabazz said Williams’ recantation would make it harder for women to come forward after being assaulted.
“I think it’s a joke and I stand with the prosecutor and evidence that was presented in this case,” he said.
Seven people pleaded guilty to charges in that case. Six are currently serving lengthy prison terms.
Byron L. Potts, an attorney for Williams, said Wednesday that she fabricated the story to get revenge on an ex-boyfriend and all her wounds except facial bruises were self-inflicted.
“I believe she is being taken advantage of,” Shabazz said. A call to Potts’ office was not immediately returned Thursday.
Brian Abraham, the Logan County prosecutor at the time of the 2007 incident, dismissed Williams’ new story as “absurd,” and said the convictions were based on the defendants’ own statements and physical evidence rather than what Williams said.
“We realized within a day or two that some of what she was saying was embellished and didn’t match what we were finding with the evidence,” he said Wednesday.
Williams had said her captors, including boyfriend Bobby Brewster, beat her, raped her, forced her to drink urine and eat feces, poured hot wax on her and taunted her with racial slurs in a trailer in Logan County, about 50 miles from Charleston. Williams was rescued after a passer-by heard cries from the shed where she was kept and an anonymous caller tipped off sheriff’s deputies.
Shabazz was occasionally at odds with Abraham over the handling of the case. Frequently speaking on behalf of Williams and her family, Shabazz repeatedly urged authorities to pursue hate-crime charges against the accused. Ultimately, one of them, Karen Burton, was convicted on a state hate crimes charge.
Shabazz also organized a march and rallies in Charleston on Williams’ behalf, and said those events and other fundraising earned more than $20,000 for her.
“I love Megan Williams, and I’m embarrassed,” he said. “This case could have a lot of negative consequences for our people and the legal system in West Virginia, and our people who organized and marched through the streets. I must come forward and tell them they were not duped.”
Potts has urged officials to re-evaluate the case, and said Wednesday that Williams wants the six to be released from prison. A statement of recantation through a lawyer isn’t enough to set that in motion, though.
There is no practical legal effect of Wednesday’s announcement, according to Philip Morrison, executive director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute.
“She hasn’t recanted,” Morrison said. “A lawyer can’t speak for an individual. The individual has to speak for herself. That’s step one.”
If Williams does give a formal statement, perhaps to investigators, then it’s up to the six convicts to file writs of habeas corpus to have their cases reopened, citing newly discovered evidence, Morrison said.
Lawyers for the six have either not responded to requests for comment or have declined to talk. The Associated Press has asked, via prison officials, to speak with the six. So far, Bobby Brewster has declined comment and the others have not responded.
Whatever the outcome of the legal process, the ripple effects of a high-profile case taking such an unexpected turn may result in future skepticism toward victims of shocking crimes.
“It can cause law enforcement and others to be more skeptical and resort to stereotypes about victims, and that can make it more difficult for victims to come forward,” said Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association.
“There are people who resist this concept of hate crimes anyway, so when they see something like this, there may be a tendency to say, ‘See?, I told you so,’” said James Nolan, a former police officer who now teaches courses on criminology and hate crimes at West Virginia University.