BIG CREEK, W.Va. - Authorities decided yesterday not to pursue hate crime charges in the kidnapping and weeklong torture of a black woman, instead going after the suspects, who are white, on state charges that carry stiffer penalties.
While federal civil rights or state hate-crime charges remain an option, a state kidnapping count that carries a sentence of up to life in prison will provide the best chance for successful prosecution, officials said.
"As a practical matter, sentenced to life, what else can be done?" US Attorney Charles T. Miller said in an interview.
Megan Williams, 20, was not a random target, prosecutor Brian Abraham said yesterday. The victim had a previous relationship with Bobby Brewster, one of the six in custody, Abraham said.
He was charged in July with domestic battery and assault after a domestic dispute involving the same woman.
Six people face charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault, and lying to police in the torture of Williams at a remote hillside home in Big Creek.
State hate-crime charges, which carry a sentence of 10 years, could come later, prosecutor Brian Abraham said. State sexual assault charges carry a penalty up to 35 years in prison.
The woman's captors forced her to eat rat droppings, choked her with a cable cord, and stabbed her in the leg while calling her a racial slur, according to criminal complaints. They also poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, the documents say.
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.
At one point, a suspect cut the woman's ankle with a knife and told her she was victimized because she is black, according to the complaints.
It wasn't until an anonymous tip led Logan County sheriff's deputies to the property on Saturday that her ordeal ended.
Williams remained hospitalized yesterday in Charleston.
The suspects have arrest records going back several years, according to records from Logan County Magistrate Court.