COLUMBUS, Ohio (CBS/AP) Megan Williams told West Virginia authorities in 2007 that seven white people had raped and tortured her over several days in a racially motivated attack, and minority rights groups rallied to her support.
Now more than two years later, Williams says it was all a lie designed to exact revenge against her boyfriend, who was one of the accused attackers. All but one went to jail.
But William's new admission has only caused more controversy. Prosecutors say they don't believe her and based their case on the confessions of the alleged attackers. And others are concerned that Williams may have been pressured by phone calls threatening her life.
In 2007, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Black Lawyers for Justice urged prosecutors to pursue hate-crime charges. The lawyers organized a march on Williams' behalf. Sharpton addressed a rally in Charleston and donated $1,000 to Williams' family as a Christmas gift.
Williams, who is black, is now 22 and living in Columbus. She recanted her story on Wednesday, and the groups that supported her stood at arm's length from the woman whose mother had described her as "slow."
Sharpton has asked a prosecutor to vindicate anyone wrongfully convicted.
The head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Logan and Boone counties in West Virginia said the group didn't rush to judgment two years ago, and won't now.
"We did have some concerns about what was being done at the time and how it was carried out by Megan and the family, because of her mental condition," said the Rev. Audie Murphy, president of the group.
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 of Brewster's mother in a rural area of Logan County, about 50 miles from Charleston, West Virginia.
Williams was rescued after a passer-by heard cries from the shed where she was kept and an anonymous caller alerted authorities.
The suspects all confessed to their actions and pleaded guilty. All but one were sent to prison.
But Williams now says she made up the story because she wanted to get revenge against a boyfriend who had beaten her, said her attorney, Byron L. Potts. She recanted because she no longer wants to live a lie, he said.
Potts said Williams has received several anonymous phone calls from people threatening her life.
"She is recanting the entire incident. She says it did not happen, and she's scared," Potts said.
Potts said Williams stabbed herself with a straight razor to help embellish the story of being tortured.
"She told me the only thing not self-inflicted were the bruises on her face," Potts said.
Prosecutors, who knew about the relationship during the case, dismissed Williams' new claim, and lawyers for the defendants would not discuss their plans.
Potts urged prosecutors in West Virginia to re-evaluate the case and he said that Williams wants people convicted to be released from prison.
Brian Abraham, the former Logan County prosecutor who pursued the cases, said authorities realized early in the investigation that they could not rely on statements from Williams, who tended to embellish and exaggerate details. Instead, he said, the seven defendants were convicted on their own statements and physical evidence.
"If she's going to say that she made it all up, that's absurd," Abraham said. "This looks like another attempt to generate more publicity."
Lawyers for the seven did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday or declined to comment. Abraham said none of the seven have appealed.
Potts said he did not know why the defendants have pleaded guilty to something they did not do.
He said Williams is aware that she could face legal consequences for fabricating the story and that he wants to have her psychologically evaluated. He said Williams told him certain people were controlling her and influencing her during the case. He did not elaborate.
He said she now lives with a caregiver, but would not give further details.
In a January interview with The Call & Post, a black newspaper in Cleveland, Williams acknowledged she had been mistreated but said her mother made her embellish the story for exposure and financial gain. Williams told the newspaper that she was afraid of her mother, who knew some of the defendants.
Williams' mother, Carmen Williams, died in June. Potts said he did not know what role the mother might have had in fabricating the case.
In a phone call to the AP on Wednesday, Sharpton said the matter should be handled delicately, citing "psychological issues" with Williams.
"This isn't cut and dried either way," he said. "Right is right, but I have no idea if tomorrow her story will change back." Ohio woman says she lied in high-profile West Virginia torture case with racial implications.