Authorities decided Wednesday 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?" U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller told The Associated Press.
Six people face charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault and lying to police in the torture of Megan Williams, 20, 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.
Williams was not a random target, prosecutor Brian Abraham said Wednesday. She had a "social relationship" with one of the suspects, he said.
"She has a history of kind of drifting off every once in awhile, and so I just thought she was just running around town," her mother, Carmen Williams, told CBS affiliate WOWK.
News organizations don't usually release the names of victims of sexual abuse, but in this case, Megan's mother says she wants people to know the horror that was done to her daughter, reports CBS News correspondent Susan McGinnis.
"I want other parents and other mothers to realize, I guess, that people are out there like that, keep a close eye on their children. You never think it would happen to your child. Obviously, I never thought that, but here we are," Carmen Williams told WOWK.
At one point, a suspect cut the woman's ankle with a knife and used the N-word in telling 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, authorities said. She limped toward the deputies, her arms outstretched as she cried, "Help me," officials said.
Williams remained hospitalized Wednesday in Charleston. The hospital declined to release any information about her condition.
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.
"She obviously had some sort of social relationship," Abraham said. "That is based on the fact that she was present at his residence on a prior date."
The suspects have arrest records going back several years, according to records from Logan County Magistrate Court, and Abraham said was familiar with all of them.
"Most of the charges are minor things," Abraham said. "Basically on weekends they get in trouble and by the middle of the week they make up with each other."
Since 1991, police have filed 108 criminal charges against the six.
Brewster's mother, Frankie Brewster, 49, faced the most serious charges among them. She was charged in 1994 with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and wanton endangerment. She was released from prison in 2000 after serving five years in the death of an 84-year-old woman, court records show.
In Williams' case, Frankie Brewster is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and giving false information during a felony investigation.
Bobby Brewster, 24, also of Big Creek, is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and assault during the commission of a felony.
In March, Brewster was accused in criminal complaints of attacking his mother with a machete at her home, according to court records. The outcome of those charges - domestic assault, brandishing a deadly weapon and obstructing an officer - was not immediately clear.
Danny J. Combs, 20, of Harts, is charged with sexual assault and malicious wounding. Karen Burton, 46, of Chapmanville, was charged with malicious wounding, battery and assault during the commission of a felony.
Burton's daughter, Alisha Burton, 23, and George A. Messer, 27, both of Chapmanville, are charged with assault during the commission of a felony and battery. She previously faced charges of assault during the commission of a felony and battery; in May, she was accused of striking Messer with a shovel and smashing the window of a woman's car. The charges are pending.
All six remained in custody Wednesday in lieu of $100,000 cash bail each. Bobby Brewster is scheduled to appear before a Logan County Circuit Court judge on Monday to be arraigned on the kidnapping charge, according to court records. A date for his mother's appearance on the kidnapping charge has not yet been set.
Public defender Dwyane Adkins, appointed to represent Bobby Brewster, and public defender Betty Gregory, appointed to represent Karen Burton, declined to comment. The other defendants' court-appointed lawyers were either in hearings or did not immediately return telephone calls Wednesday.
Neighbors of Megan and Carmen Williams in Charleston recalled the mother as friendly and her daughter as sweet-natured but said they kept largely to themselves.
"They were isolated, in a way," said the Rev. Norman Jones of the Greater Emmanuel Gospel Tabernacle, which Carmen Williams attended. "Carmen was very protective of Megan, so it was hard to know her well."