CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Hundreds of people marched through the state capital on Saturday to urge prosecutors to add hate crime charges against six white people charged in the beating, torture and sexual assault of a 20-year-old black woman.

Authorities say the accused, three men and three women, held Megan Williams captive for days at a rural trailer – sexually assaulting her, beating her and forcing her to eat human and animal feces.

Police stopped traffic in downtown Charleston along the 2-mile route, as demonstrators held signs calling for the suspects to be charged with hate crimes.

“Hate crimes are out of control in America,” Malik Shabazz, a legal adviser to Williams and her family and a founder of Black Lawyers for Justice, told the group at a rally before the march. “Nooses are being hung and our women are being raped by white mobs. What happened to Megan Williams was a hate crime and we want this prosecuted as a hate crime.”

Shabazz pointed to statements from suspect Frankie Brewster and her son, Bobby Brewster, that racial epithets were used every time Williams was stabbed.

Shabazz staged the rally despite a request by the city’s black ministerial association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People not to gather because it could harm the prosecution’s case.

Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham has not filed hate crime charges in the case saying the other charges already filed carried harsher penalties. A hate crime conviction carries up to 10 years in prison in West Virginia. All six face kidnapping and sexual assault charges. Kidnapping carries a possible life sentence.

Abraham, who urged Williams and her family not to talk about the case or attend the rally, has said it might be difficult to prove a hate crime charge because Williams had a “social relationship” with one of the suspects for at least several months before the alleged assaults.

Williams attended the rally wearing a T-shirt with the message “Protect the Black Woman.” In a brief speech, she showed her appreciation to her supporters.

The Associated Press generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Williams and her mother agreed to release her name.

Joe Marchal said he drove three hours from Berea, Ky., with his wife and infant son to show his support for Williams.

“If no one came out today, imagine how that would make Megan Williams feel,” said Marchal. “We’re here for her.”

In addition to calling attention to hate crimes, organizers hoped the rally would help raise money for Williams’ medical care and future educational expenses.

Zayid Muhammad, the national minister of culture for the New Black Panther Party, came to the rally from Newark, N.J.

“As a father of a daughter and a child of African ancestry, the idea that I can sit by idly, (in) the face of one of the most violent and obscene acts committed against a black woman in my life, was too appalling,” Muhammad said. “I had to come.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton had been expected to participate but did not appear.

AP-ES-11-03-07 1804EDT

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