Civil rights leaders told a packed church on Saturday to have patience in the legal process and to pray for the recovery of a black woman who was allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted by a group of whites.
Listeners filled every pew and stood in the back of a small church as speakers from the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and local groups led prayers and answered questions.
Authorities say Megan Williams, 20, of Charleston, was held captive for more than a week at a ramshackle trailer, where she was tortured, sexually assaulted and forced to eat animal droppings. Williams’ ordeal ended Sept. 8 after police received an anonymous tip. Six suspects, all white, were arrested.
Most of the discussion Saturday at St. Phillip Baptist Church centered around the allegation that at least one suspect used a racial slur and the question of whether the suspects would face hate-crime charges.
Racial issues surround case
U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller has said there would be no federal charges for violations of equal rights laws. Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham can still pursue state hate-crime charges.
State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Director Kenneth Hale asked the local black community not to arbitrarily demand hate-crime charges until the investigation is complete.
The Rev. Gill Ford, a regional director for the NAACP, said leaders discussed the racial aspect of the case Friday with Abraham.
“Everybody has a different way they define racism,” Ford told the audience. “The law looks at it in a different way than all of us look at it. So we need to start talking to each other so we are speaking the same language.”
Abraham has said he wants to first pursue charges that carry stiffer penalties than the hate crime law. One of the six, Bobby Brewster, had a previous relationship with the victim and was charged in July with domestic violence, Abraham has said.
Suspects have lengthy records
The suspects remain in custody in lieu of $100,000 cash bail each. Hearings are set to begin Monday.
Megan Williams’ mother, Carmen, said Thursday that her daughter was expected to remain hospitalized for a few more days. The Associated Press generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Megan Williams and her mother agreed to release her name.
Since 1991, police have filed 108 criminal charges against the six defendants. Many of those cases were dismissed and plea agreements were reached in others.
Joe Spradling, a former Logan County public defender who attended Saturday’s meeting, said the alleged attack may not have occurred had the suspects been fully prosecuted in previous cases.