Megan Williams Recants Claims Of Sexual Abuse

Back in 2007, Megan William alleged that she was a victim of a racially-motivated hate crime. Her claims of being raped and tortured horrified the nation and helped put several people in prison. Williams now says the abuse never happened. But the prosecutor in charge of her case does not buy her retraction, citing physical evidence proving the hate crime had, indeed, happened. Join host Michel Martin as she discusses the puzzling turn of events with Gary Harki, a reporter covering the story for the Charleston Gazette in Charleston, West Virginia.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now a shocking new development in a story we've followed closely. Two years ago, West Virginia State Police were called to a mobile home occupied by Bobby Brewster and his mother, Frankie. A young woman named Megan Williams claimed she'd been beaten, stabbed, sexually assaulted, and subjected to other degrading behavior against her will by Brewster and his mother, among others.

Seven individuals eventually accepted guilty pleas in connection with the case, and most are serving lengthy prison terms. The case also took on racial overtones because Megan Williams is African-American, and the accused are all white.

Now, Megan Williams is reportedly recanting her story. According to a new attorney in Columbus, Ohio, she says the physical and sexual abuse never happened. And a local prosecutor, though, insists he did not rely on Williams' statements to secure the convictions, and that he relied on evidence.

Joining us now to tell more about this story is Gary Harki. He's a reporter with the Charleston Gazette in Charleston, West Virginia. He has covered this story from the beginning. Welcome. Thank you for talking to us.

Mr. GARY HARKI (Charleston Gazette): Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: How did this news - how did this news come about that Megan Williams was recanting her story?

Mr. HARKI: Well, on Tuesday her lawyer, Byron Potts, started notifying members of the media that she was going to recant her testimony at a press conference on Wednesday, and it escalated from there.

MARTIN: Now, the prosecutor, the current prosecutor in that jurisdiction, is not the person who was in the seat at the time that this case was brought. But how are these officials reacting to this information?

Mr. HARKI: Basically, they've all pretty much said that none of the people convicted on any of the charges were convicted on Megan's testimony. There was physical evidence against all of these people, and also their own statements. They all pled guilty and then confessed to what they did, and also said what the other people that were involved did as well.

MARTIN: What did Byron Potts, Megan Williams' new attorney, offer as her motivation for coming forward at this time? What did he say? What did he say? And I should mention that she did not speak at this press conference.

Mr. HARKI: Right. Basically, he just said that she wanted to come forward and tell the truth, that this was on her mind, and she just wanted to tell everybody that this was untrue, and that's basically the only explanation that they've given as to why she's doing this.

MARTIN: Has there been any response from her legal counsel at the time, a man named Malik Shabazz, who undertook to represent her? He's the co-founder of a group called Black Lawyers for Justice. He's a member of the New Black Panther Party. He was very visible in the media at the time, representing her.

I should mention, we tried to contact him for a response, and we have been unable to do so. Has there been any response from her legal counsel at the time -who, I should say, criticized the fact that plea bargains were offered to the accused in this case. They felt that this case should have been charged more aggressively.

Mr. HARKI: No, I tried to contact Shabazz yesterday as well, and he did not return phone calls, and I get the sense that he doesn't know what to make of this any more than a lot of people that were involved in this previously do.

I sense that we will hear from him soon but that he just - he's been sort of trying to let all of this sink in, I think.

MARTIN: What about her parents or guardians? At that time, you reported this story aggressively, you spoke to family members, who one - also were visible in the media at the time, and as I - one of the interesting details here is that normally the names of sexual assault victims or sexual assault complainants are not disclosed to the media, but her family members made the decision that they wanted to go public with this because they wanted to draw attention to what they said were the seriousness of the acts committed against her. What - have you been able to reach any family members, and what are they saying?

Mr. HARKI: Her mother - her adoptive mother, Carmen Williams, died about six months ago. Her father - adoptive father, Matthew Williams, I spoke to him briefly yesterday, and I just sort of asked him why, why was she doing this, and why did she move to Columbus. And his only answer was that she does what she wants to do, and that's pretty much all he had to say about it.

Basically, she's been living in Columbus with a woman by the name of Valencia Daniels(ph), and Daniels a couple months ago put a video up on YouTube that had Williams and her and, I believe, Williams' sister, Shayla(ph). And they were talking about how Williams, all these terrible things had happened to her and how she no longer had any money, and they were asking people for money in the YouTube video. That has since been taken down.

MARTIN: Interesting. And also, I think people may remember this. There was a question of Megan Williams, whether she had diminished mental capacity or not. I know that she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but that she, she - her mother used the term "slow" to describe her. Do you think that's a factor in what's going on here?

Mr. HARKI: Absolutely. I think that Megan - well, one of the people that was originally involved in this, Reverend Lloyd Hill(ph), who's a pastor here in Charleston, he was one of the first people to interview her and talk to her after she was brought out of Logan County and in the hospital.

And what he told me yesterday was that when he saw her, he thought, well, this was such a tragic situation for a young woman who basically has the mind of a child.

So I think that Megan has some issues that essentially - I think she's very easily led by the people around her…

MARTIN: And very briefly, if I may, the prosecutor at the time stands by his prosecution. He said that the investigation began with her statements; it didn't end with her statements. But what happens now? What about the current prosecutor in the case? Any sense of what he does next?

Mr. HARKI: I think basically next, he's going to wait and see if there's a judge that wants to bring up and look at any of these cases again. I don't think he's going to do it himself.

The current prosecutor was briefly a lawyer in the case for one of the defendants, just for about 10 days. But since that happened, he's basically said he's not going to look into it himself. He's going to wait for either a judge to appoint a special prosecutor…

MARTIN: OK, we'll have to leave it at that - please do keep us posted, Gary. Gary Harki is a reporter with the Charleston Gazette in Charleston, West Virginia. He joined us from NPR member station WVPR in Charleston. Gary, thank you.

Mr. HARKI: Thanks for having me.

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