Hana and Immanuel Williams’ Case Part II UPDATED
Part I includes every aspect of the case we could find from August 2, 2011 until the beginning of jury selection. See one of the most comprehensive posts on the internet here including how we exposed Adoption Advocates International of Washington state (AAI) as the placing agency.
Day One of Jury Selection
Twelve people were dismissed immediately from the 163 in the jury pool due to not being able to be present for the four to six weeks that the trial is estimated to take. An additional two people were dismissed because they had met Larry and Carri Williams. They need twelve jurors and three alternates.
“Those remaining in the jury pool were given a two-page questionnaire asking their feelings about and experiences with parental discipline, adoption, homeschooling and fundamental Christianity. Answers to the questionnaire and to attorneys’ questions Tuesday morning will further whittle the group.
Monday afternoon, attorneys on both sides argued to Judge Susan K. Cook about which witnesses, evidence and terminology should be allowed in the case. Those motions will continue Tuesday.
As of Monday afternoon, here are some things that will be permitted during the trial:
- Testimony from the Williams children’s pediatrician. The defense said he has no expert opinion on Hana’s death, but Cook allowed him as a witness because he could testify as to what he saw when he treated the children.
- Testimony from the emergency room doctor who saw Hana when she was brought to the hospital already deceased.
- Testimony from various experts regarding whether the Williamses’ adopted son has post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Evidence that a portable outdoor toilet at the Williams home, allegedly used by Hana, was serviced only once or twice in a year’s time.
- Prosecutors will be allowed to use evidence of the children’s mental agony to build a case that the Williamses tortured their two adopted children, in part by isolating them and treating them differently than their biological children. The defense unsuccessfully argued only physical harm, not mental anguish, should be used to make the case for torture.
As of Monday afternoon, here are some things that will not be permitted during the trial:
- Use of the terms “victim” or “crime scene,” except during opening and closing arguments. The defense successfully argued those terms connote guilt.
- Evidence the children were not allowed to watch television or use the Internet.
- A letter Larry Williams sent to his children in violation of a court order not to contact them. The letter quotes a letter from Paul in the Bible and includes passages about staying strong despite persecution. Cook said it could be excluded because it does not explicitly ask the children to do anything or help Larry Williams in any way.
- Testimony from social workers that the Williamses “insisted” on being present when social workers interviewed the children. Law enforcement told them they had a right to be there for the interviews, even though parents usually aren’t.”
[Go Skagit.com 7/22/13 by Gina Cole]
REFORM Puzzle Pieces
These people never should have adopted. They were not prepared and went into this for all the wrong reasons. This alone would have stopped this tragedy.
Honesty in the AP’s abilities was lacking and the kneejerk accusations in the aftermath that Hana committed suicide is related in that protecting the institution of Ethiopia adoption and the agencies involved became more important than figuring out what happened to Hana. Honesty about the conditions and age of the children is also questionable.
Trial begins for parents accused of killing adopted daughter[Komo News 7/26/13 by Elisa Jaffe] says “Prosecutors say everything was fine when Hana was first adopted, but they claim as time went on she received more beatings and less food.
Less than three years after arriving in Sedro-Woolley from Ethiopia, Hana was dead. Her adoptive parents, Carri and Larry Williams, were charged with abusing the teen to death.
“She found her dream come true when she found adoptive parents and came to America,” said Cassie Trueblood, the attorney for Carri and Larry Williams.
But prosecutors paint a different picture, saying the girl suffered horrendous abuse in the guise of discipline. They told jurors that Hana wasn’t punished, but tortured.
Jurors heard how Hana was forced to sleep in the barn or was locked in a shower room or closets.
“Five-foot tall Hana living in the closet up to 23 hours at a time, that’s not discipline,” said prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula.
Defense attorney’s claimed Carri punished Hana and her adoptive brother, Emanuel, for stealing junk food and blamed the timeout locations on a big family.
“Because the boys used one room and the girls used another, she couldn’t send a child to their room,” Trueblood said.
Hana and Emanuel were reportedly isolated from the family’s seven biological children during timeouts. Prosecutors say they were also excluded from Christmas festivities and forced to eat outside.
Carri Williams sobbed openly in court on Friday as lawyers described the day Hana was found dead in the family’s muddy back yard. The girl died of hypothermia, but she also suffered from malnutrition.
Defense attorneys told jurors they weren’t in court to determine if Hana’s adoptive mom was mother of the year, but to determine if she caused Hana’s death.
“You will see there’s a difference between bad parenting and criminal behavior as charged,” Trueblood said.
On Monday, Emanuel is scheduled to testify, and most of the family’s other children are expected to testify as well.”
Trial begins for couple accused of starving adopted daughter[King 5 7/26/13 by Eric Wilkinson] says “For Hana Williams, it was a troubled transition from Ethiopia to the promised land of America. She wet the bed, rebelled against her strict Christian parents and was more than they and their seven biological children could handle. Less than 3 years after setting foot in her new Seedro-Woolley home, Hana was dead.
The question before jurors now is did Carri Williams and her husband Larry cause Hana’s death? The devout Christians admittedly did not spare the rod with their children, but prosecutors say they went to terrible extremes, hitting Hana and her younger brother with plastic plumbing pipes, hosing them down with cold water and forcing Hana to sleep in a barn or a four-foot-by-two-foot closet for weeks at a time.
“These things are not discipline or punishment,” said assistant Skagit County prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula. “They constitute torture.”
Prosecutors say the couple withheld food from Hana as a form of punishment and at the time of her death, the teenager weighed just 80 pounds. One cold, wet night in May 2011, she was sent outside as punishment wearing little more than cut-off sweatpants and a T-shirt. A few hours later she was dead from hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition.
“At one point as Hana was out there dying of hypothermia, her mother came out and hit her with a switch,” said Kaholokula.
Defense attorneys, however, argue the couple’s parenting was poor, but it did not cause the girl’s death.
“She had no reason to believe that Hana, in her backyard, was suffering from hypothermia,” said Laura Riquelme, representing Carri Williams.
The defense paints a picture of a strict but solid family where Carri homeschooled the nine children and her husband worked long hours at Boeing. They say Hana suffered from hepatitis and herpes and that she was removed from the other children for hygiene issues. At one point, they say, she smeared her menstrual blood on the bathroom door.
The night of her death, Riquelme says, Carri Williams ordered her daughter to come in out of the cold. She even sent the girl’s brothers to bring her in, but she wouldn’t budge. Williams set out dry clothing for the girl, but she never put it on.
“Carri said, ‘That’s it.’ She made numerous attempt to bring her in and decided she could come in on her own,” Riquelme told jurors.
Later, Hana started falling down and taking off her clothes, both signs of hypothermia. She collapsed in the back yard and never regained consciousness.
“We’re not here to say that they are parents of the year,” said Riquelme, “But you have to ask yourself, did they cause her death?”
Members of the area’s Ethiopian community are attending the trial. Metassibia Mulugeta said adopted children from foreign lands often pose special problems, but there are no excuses for what happened to Hana.
“You don’t know what kind of a child you are going to have,” she said. “But you have that love and you want a child, so you prepare yourself.”
There are also questions as to Hana’s age at the time of her death. She was believed to be 13 but adoption records are not clear. She could be as old as 16. If she was just 13 years old, her parents could be convicted of the more serious charge of homicide by abuse. Hana’s younger brother Emanuel, also an alleged victim of abuse by his adoptive parents, is expected to take the stand on Monday.”
Light of Day Stories blog says “Hana started off sleeping with other girls in the one bedroom they shared (the boys had one bedroom also), but because of her behavior, was made to sleep alone in the barn (83 feet away from the house), and then later on the cement floor of the shower room, She apparently had a sleeping bag and pillow there, but the light and the lock were controlled from the outside.When Immanuel was punished, he was removed from the siblings’ room and made to sleep in the shower room. Hana was then made to sleep (unclear how often, though possibly 23 hours at a time) in a closet that was 4 feet 3 inches tall and 2 feet deep. Hana was 5 feet tall at the time. The light and lock were also controlled from the outside. She had slept in there the night before she died.”
“Ms. Kaholokula said that Hana and Immanuel were also hit with a switch, on their bottoms and thighs. Immanuel was once hit by Larry Williams with a wooden stick until he bled. The severity of the beatings increased as time went on. In addition to isolation and beatings, Hana and Immanuel were punished at mealtimes. They often ate their meals not at the big family table, but outside at a picnic table. They would be given cold leftovers, with frozen vegetables on top, or wet sandwiches. Food would also sometimes be withheld entirely.”
“The Williamses also set up a Honey Bucket or Port-A-Potty outside the barn, exclusively for Hana, because she did not maintain proper hygiene standards, according to Carri Williams. Hana had Hepatitis B, and contact with her blood (during menstruation, for example) could endanger the other children. Hana also had to shower outside, using a garden hose; privacy would depend on what the family agreed to.
Hana, like most Ethiopian girls, had braids when she arrived. The Williamses shaved Hana’s head 3 times in the 2 and a half years before she died: once for lice, once for a fungal infection, and once as punishment.
What were the children punished for? According to the prosecutor, transgressions included bad handwriting, incorrect math problems, a badly made bed, clothes on the floor, and stealing food (such as sweets or other treats).”
“The final Opening Statement was by Cassie Trueblood, the defense lawyer for Larry Williams. She talked about the 9 children, and how Larry was the breadwinner while Carri handled things in the home. She went through the typical daily schedule: the kids got up around 9am; Larry and the older boys cooked breakfast (often pancakes), and then Larry went to work. The kids all cleaned up, then did chores and worked on school assignments (reading, math, sign language). They prepared lunch, cleaned up after, then read Bible stories, played inside games, and finished school work. They had dinner around 6:30 (the lawyer mentioned burritos and soup), cleaned up, maybe watched educational videos, and went to bed. The older boys would stay up until their dad got home around midnight. It was, the lawyer said, a very close, highly structured family.
Carri Williams wanted to provide a peaceful home for Larry. There were strict rules, and it was very important for the children to be obedient. The Williamses now wish that they had not made some of their parenting decisions, including the outdoor toilet for Hana. The lawyer said that Hana, like the other children, was clearly told what she needed to do to earn back certain privileges. Hana and Immanuel became quite oppositional in the last year with the Williamses. Larry and Carri used spanking as discipline, but had begun to disagree about the effectiveness, sometimes fighting in front of the children. Larry, said the lawyer, would sometimes give the kids big scoops of ice cream.”
Update 2/July 29 Trial Day
“On Monday, Hana’s 12-year-old brother Emanuel took the stand to recount the horrors he said he and his sister had to live with.
Through an interpreter, Emanuel described being repeatedly beaten and punished with a water hose.
“They would beat me very hard,” he said.
Hana died in May 2012, and prosecutors say Larry and Carri Williams starved, beat and neglected the girl. The day she died, they allegedly banished her to the back yard on a rainy, 40-degree day.
Prosecutors say Hana didn’t have enough clothing and lost consciousness in the mud. Carri Williams told a 911 operator she thought Hana killed herself.
“She’s been throwing herself all around and then she collapsed,” she said.
The parents are now accused of homicide-by-abuse.
“It was the same for my sister,” Emanuel said. “The father would use a beating stick to beat us.”
Emanuel said the beatings got worse over time, telling the jurors his parents often punished the kids outside with a water hose.
“If we wet bed, peed the bed, they would use a water hose all over us, spray our bodies,” he said.
He said he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom without an escort, and said no part of his body was immune to the beatings.
“They would hit me on the bottom of my feet and around the toes as well,” he said. “They would just hit really hard.”
Emanuel said he witnessed Hana’s beatings and described her as “sad and unhappy.” When asked what happened to her, Emanuel said, “I don’t know. She’s disappeared.” He said he thinks she’s dead.
At one point defense attorneys asked for a mistrial, which the judge denied.
Emanuel testified on Monday that his father had touched his private parts, but that was stricken and the jury was told to disregard it. The prosecutor thought the boy was referring to Larry checking to see if he had wet his pants and nothing more sinister.”
[KOMO news 7/29/13 by Michelle Esteban]
“The boy, about 12 years old, told the court Larry and Carri Williams beat him all over his body, including once hitting his head so hard it bled.
The Williamses each are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in the death of teenager Hana Williams, and with first-degree assault in connection with alleged abuse of her brother — their adopted son.
Hana was found lying dead in the backyard of the family’s Sedro-Woolley home on a rainy night in May 2011. An examination found she died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition.
In the afternoon, a pediatrician and consultant for the state Department of Social and Health Services testified about her review of Hana’s medical records, especially data showing she lost 20 to 25 percent of her body weight between 2009 and 2011.
The Williamses’ neighbor was called next. She testified to not seeing the two adopted children as much as she saw the seven biological Williams children in the time leading up to Hana’s death.
Witness testimony resumes Tuesday morning. The adopted son has not finished testifying, but because of his age and hearing impairment, prosecutors asked that he be limited to 2.5 hours of testimony per day and not be required to testify on consecutive days.”
[GO Skagit.com 7/29/13]
Update 3: July 30
Before I get to the July 30 testimony, Light of Day Stories blog here mentions that the pediatrician who testified for the prosecution on July 29 is Frances Chalmers, MD of Skagit Pediatrics. Dr. Chalmers has an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) foster care specialization and is highly respected in her field.
The blogger mentions that the stomach infection is Giardia, a common parasite that children from institutions can have, and H. pylori.Most people with H. Pylori do not have symptoms but it can be a cause of ulcers and can be easily treated with common antibiotics.
July 30 Testimonies
“The second day of witness testimony in the trial of a couple accused of abusing their adopted daughter to death began with a doctor who performed an autopsy on the girl’s body.
Dr. Daniel Selove of Everett examined Hana Williams’ body about 12 hours after she died and concluded the cause was hypothermia, with malnutrition and a stomach condition as “contributing factors.”
“Hana was found lying dead in the backyard of the family’s Sedro-Woolley home on a rainy night in May 2011. Her parents are now charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter, as well as first-degree assault in connection with alleged abuse of their adopted son.
As prosecutors showed photos of Hana’s body, Selove described various bruises, scrapes and other marks, including some that showed she could have recently been struck “at least 14 times” with a switch like the ones Larry and Carri Williams used to discipline their children.
These scrapes and bruises did not cause Hana’s death, Selove said.
Selove also said that, from the autopsy, he ruled out diarrhea, Hepatitis B, cancer, AIDS, intestinal parasites, drug overdose, diabetes, a heart condition, trauma, drowning, suffocation and choking as causes of Hana’s death or the precipitous weight loss leading up to her death.
When defense attorneys cross-examined him, Selove conceded he could not rule out anorexia as an explanation, but said bulimia and repeated vomiting were unlikely to have caused 5-foot-tall Hana to shrink to the 78-pound frame he and a medical examiner assessed. [Sickening that the defense is going full force on the anorexia/suicide cause]
It appeared Hana “definitely” didn’t eat in the last hour or two before she died, but could have been without food for as long as six hours, Selove said.
Selove’s testimony continues this afternoon.”
[Go Skagit.com 7/30/13 by Gina Cole]
“A girl who was found dead in the back yard of her Sedro-Woolley home had bruises, scrapes and marks where she could have been struck at least 14 times with a switch like the one her parents used to discipline their children, the doctor who conducted the autopsy testified.
The cause of death for Hana Williams was hypothermia with malnutrition and a stomach condition as contributing factors, Dr. Daniel Selove of Everett concluded”
“The boy, who is deaf, testified through a sign language interpreter Monday that the Williams used sticks or belts to beat him all over his body. The punishments worsened during the three years he was there, and he also described being sprayed with a water hose if he wet his pants. ”
[KOMO news 7/30/13 by Associated Press]
Update 4/July 31
More on July 30 testimonies
“A forensic pathologist confirmed Tuesday that Hana died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition.
Dr. Daniel Selove of Everett performed an autopsy on her body about 12 hours after she died. Hana collapsed around midnight in the backyard of the family’s Sedro-Woolley home on a rainy night in May 2011, dressed in a T-shirt, cutoff sweatpants, socks and shoes.”
“Prosecutors intend to prove the Williamses “recklessly caused” Hana’s death via a “pattern or practice of abuse” and an “extreme indifference to human life,” and that they caused “substantial bodily harm” to their adopted son.
The couple was required to send yearly updates to the adoption agency about how their two new Ethiopian children were doing. They had not sent one since 2009, the year after Hana and her brother arrived, Gay Knutson of Adoption Advocates International testified Tuesday. [Light of Day blog adds that AAI also did the homestudy]
Part of Knutson’s job is to address parents’ concerns about adopted children’s health or behavioral issues. The agency has no record the Williamses ever called to ask for help, although that help is explicitly offered on a “welcome home” packet given to all new adoptive families, she said.”
“Tuesday was the second day of witness testimony in the Williamses’ trial. Their adopted son took the stand Monday morning, showing the jury a scar on his torso and saying the Williamses and one of their biological sons beat him all over his body.
That son, one of seven biological Williams children, is scheduled to testify in the trial but plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid doing so.
Selove’s testimony showed Hana could have been similarly beaten. On the photos of her body, the pathologist pointed out various bruises, scrapes and other marks, including some that showed she could have recently been struck “at least 14 times” with a switch like the ones Larry and Carri Williams used to discipline their children. These scrapes and bruises did not cause Hana’s death, Selove said.
For the homicide-by-abuse charge to apply, prosecutors must prove Hana was younger than 16 when she died. The girl’s exact age has been at issue throughout the investigation. Her body was exhumed in January, but tests were inconclusive.
The stated ages of children adopted from other countries are not always accurate, Knutson said.
A doctor from Seattle Children’s Hospital in Seattle is scheduled to testify Wednesday morning. Defense attorneys also need to finish questioning an interpreter who began testimony toward the end of the day Tuesday about translations of documents from Ethiopia.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 7/31/13 by Gina Cole]
Update 5/August 1, 2013
July 31 Testimonies
” During the third day of witness testimony yesterday in the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, a mental health therapist from Seattle Children’s Hospital testified that Hana’s 12-year-old brother suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the abuse he endured under the hands of his adoptive parents.
The mental health expert, Dr. Julia Petersen, said that the boy, who was also adopted from Ethiopia, started meeting with her last winter, when he had been in foster care for more than a year, local media reported. The couple have pleaded not guilty.
Per the Skagit Valley Herald: “Petersen said the boy fit the diagnostic criteria for PTSD based in part on his nightmares about being physically harmed and the fact he was constantly afraid of making mistakes or expressing himself lest he be “punished.” Discipline the boy experienced in the Williams home, plus seeing Hana in pain and dying, is traumatic enough to lead to PTSD, she said.”
Dr Petersen pointed out that the brother’s upbringing in Ethiopia or his stay at foster care in the U.S. do not appear to be the reason for the post-traumatic stress disorder. “Losing his parents caused the boy sadness and grief, but not the same kind of anxiety brought on by what he said happened in the Williams home,” Petersen said.
According to the newspaper records from Seattle Children’s Hospital indicate the Williams family brought their adopted son to the clinic in 2008, but did not return for the recommended follow-up visits.”
Twitter feed of #Williamstrial says of July 31 testimonies:
- “Therapist who worked with adopted son says he was afraid to make mistakes because at the Williams home he’d be beaten for it. “
- “Adopted Williams boy said he “often felt hungry,” was punished for taking food from the family kitchen, therapist testifies. “
“The boy Larry and Carri Williams adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 told a court Thursday morning that life in his new home consisted of nights sleeping in a bathtub or shower room and days spent eating wet sandwiches and frozen food, sometimes on the floor.The Williamses’ adopted daughter received similar treatment, the boy said. Hana Williams died in May 2011 of hypothermia, hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition, after hours spent in the rain in the family’s backyard in Sedro-Woolley.The boy told prosecutors his new parents and their biological son sprayed him with cold water from a hose or in the shower whenever he wet his pants or bed. The Williamses also sprayed Hana, the boy said, but he didn’t know why.
The biological Williams children were never sprayed with a hose and never made to eat on the floor, but some of them doled out these punishments to their adopted younger siblings, the boy said.
Sometimes Hana and her brother were sent outside to eat their meals, even if it was snowing, he testified today.
The boy, who is about 12 years old and deaf, is limited to half days of testimony, never on consecutive days. He first took the stand Monday and described being beaten by the Williamses all over his body with a belt or switch.
Once, the boy said Monday, Larry Williams used a wooden stick to hit him on his head so hard he bled. That same day, during a birthday celebration for Carri Williams, his adoptive mother told the other children not to use sign language to communicate with the boy anymore, the boy said.
Hana sometimes slept in a closet or in the family’s barn and used a Honey Bucket (portable toilet) in the yard instead of the bathroom in the house, the boy said.
Throughout his testimony Monday and today, the boy has not once looked at Larry and Carri Williams, who he had not seen for about two years while he has been in foster care and the case has been pending.”
“A 12-year-old boy continued his disturbing testimony Thursday about a life of abuse in a Skagit County home.
Prosecutors say it was that same abuse that led to the death of the boy’s sister, Hana Williams.
With the help of interpreters, the young deaf boy explained to jurors the kind of home life he had with his adoptive parents, Carri and Larry
The 12-year-old, named Emanuel, said he was beaten with a stick and hosed down with with frigid water.
“If the water was really, really cold when it came out I’d be scared,” Emanuel said.
The boy’s sister, Hana, died two years ago at the family’s Sedro-Woolley home. Prosecutors accuse Larry and Carri Williams of starving, beating
and neglecting the young girl until she died.
An autopsy showed Hana died of hypothermia brought on by malnutrition. Emanuel described to the jury what a typical meal in the house was like.
“Some of the food, you know, was still frozen,” he said. “It wasn’t well cooked. You know, it was hard for me to eat.
The day Hana died, prosecutors say she was banished to the back yard. It was raining hard, and the family found her unconscious in the mud a
short time later.
Emanuel said he and his sister were often forced outside to eat.
“Well, it was snowing. I couldn’t eat at the table. I would have to go under the shelter to eat,” he said.
Later in the day, lawyers called family friend Beverly Davies to the stand. Davies said Carri Williams complained how Hana failed to obey her
and was routinely spanked.
“She said, ‘My house, my children, my rules,” Davies said.
Carri and Larry Williams have three biological children, who prosecutors say did not suffer the same abuse as the two adopted kids.
The two youngest boys will not testify, but the oldest will be called to the stand later in the trial.
“John Hutson, a law school professor and dean, who testified before Congress about military prisoner abuse, told jurors Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel were beaten with rods. ”In my judgment, it’s not a close case. They both were unquestionably tortured,” said Hutson.
Huston says the Ethiopian orphans were fed frozen food, slept in a closet and used a portable toilet in the yard at the couple’s gated home.
“People who endure torture become worn down,” said Hutson.
Hana, seen in a video as a healthy girl in 2007, died of hypothermia and starvation in 2011.
A photo taken at the home Hana shared with the Williams and their seven children shows the thin teen with the braids she loved shaved off.
“It’s a demonstration of power, control, authority,” said Hutson.
But the defense argued Hana’s head was shaved to treat lice and no one quoted in Hutson’s report said the children were abused.
Rachel Forde, Larry Williams’ attorney asked, “Not a single person who actually saw these spankings described them as beatings, correct?”
“Right,” said Hutson.
The couple, who could face life in prison, admit they were strict — even excessive.
Oscar Overlund, one of many people in the Ethiopian community following the case in court, says torture is the right term.
“Just because you can attempt to dispute one (element), it doesn’t take away from the whole picture,” said Overlund.”
“This level of isolation, degradation and pain, coupled with Hana’s malnutrition, would constitute torture, said John Hutson, a retired top attorney for the Navy and Marines.Hutson has spent 12 years studying torture and has testified on the subject before Congress multiple times.Larry Williams’ attorneys questioned Hutson’s qualifications as an expert witness in this case because his expertise is in military and international contexts.
Judge Susan K. Cook allowed his testimony as to what constitutes torture, so long as he did not give a legal definition for torture.
Watching someone one cares about be tortured is itself a form of torture, Hutson said. On the stand Wednesday, the adopted son’s therapist attributed part of her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder to the boy having seen Hana suffer.
The boy testified Monday that his new parents and one of their biological sons beat him on the bottom of his feet. Hutson called this “one of the classic examples of torture” because the pain from it is instant and enduring but any marks from it are easily hidden.
Hutson has never communicated with any of the Williamses, including the surviving adopted child. The three-page report he submitted to the court before his testimony was based on hundreds of pages of information provided to him by prosecutors, although he admitted he did not read every word of it.
Hutson said another thing that struck him was that Hana was allegedly forced to shower naked outside, with little privacy, instead of in the house.
This is degrading, Hutson said, noting that the Army Field Manual specifically prohibits forced nudity.
Rachel Forde, an attorney for Larry Williams, mentioned some of the rationale behind the Williamses’ discipline decisions. For example, they made Hana use a port-a-potty in the yard because of hygiene issues she had while on her period.
Hutson said that did not affect his conclusion that, overall, Hana was tortured.
“There’s always a reason for (torture),” Hutson said, whether it’s punishment or information-gathering. “But there’s never a justification for it.”
He also testified to the cumulative nature of torture: an action that is not stressful initially can become stressful if repeated over a long period of time. In this way, he said, what might have started as occasional discipline of the two children became something “more insidious.”
“In my judgment, it’s not a close case,” Hutson said. “They both were unquestionably tortured.”"
“For the first time, jurors saw what Hana Williams looked like as a healthy girl–and her shocking deterioration before her death.Video taken in 2007 before she left Ethiopia shows Hana smiling as she looks at the camera. A photo taken closer to her death in 2011 shows her thin teen and shaved head.
Hana’s adopted brother, Immanuel, who is deaf, testified she was always told to stay outside by her adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams.
“They didn’t let her into the house to warm up,” said 12-year-old Immanuel, through an interpreter.
Immanuel says he and Hana were treated very differently from the Williams’ own seven children.
The Ethiopian pair would sleep in a closet or on the floor. They were given frozen or wet food to eat outside.
“If it was snowing, I couldn’t eat at the table. I would have to go under the shelter to eat,” said Immanuel.
He says they both were hosed down as punishment.
“If the water was really, really cold when it came at me, I would feel scared,” said Immanuel.”
“[P]rosecutors questioned people who knew Carri through a knitting group — people who knew the stay-at-home mom was upset with Hana for not obeying her.”She said, ‘my house, my children and my rules,’” said Beverly Davies.”
“It was Day 7 in a Skagit couple’s murder and child abuse trial.
Larry and Carri Williams have not seen their seven children in nearly two years.
Today, two of their daughters were called to testify for the prosecution.
Cara Williams, now 14, pointed at a picture of her family’s Sedro-Woolley home to show where she found her adopted Ethiopian sister Hana lying naked, face down in the backyard in 2011.
She helped her mother Carri drag the teen inside—but Hana was too heavy.
Cara’s brothers picked her up but it was too late. Hana died of hypothermia and malnutrition.
“We put a sheet over her body,” said Cara Williams.
Cara, one of Larry and Carri’s seven children, says Immanuel, a brother, and Hana ate outside and slept in a closet when they broke the rules in the gated, conservative Christian home.
The parents claim they cared for the adopted pair—like shaving Hana’s hair when she had lice.
But Cara says Hana’s braids were shaved as punishment.
“Because she was clipping grass around the house and she was clipping it down to an inch instead of leaving a couple of inches,” said Cara.
The Williams could face life in prison and are charged with assaulting Immanuel and abusing Hana to death.
A witness told investigators the couple followed a controversial book called “Train Up A Child”. The author tells parents to use a switch, cold baths, withhold food and force children outside in cold weather as punishment.
Cara says her father, a Boeing worker, and her stay-at-home mother hit all of the kids.
“In your family you call the swats and spanking “training” correct?” asked Larry’s attorney, Cassie Trueblood.
“Yes,” said Cara.
But Cara says the adopted children were the only ones who had to shower outside with a garden hose.
“Did you ever take a shower out there?” asked prosecutor Rich Weyrich.
“No,” said Cara.
Prosecutors want jurors to hear from the couple’s oldest sons.
But a judge ruled the pair will not testify without immunity—because they are also accused with abusing their adopted siblings.
Prosecutors say they are willing to give immunity from any future charges which should clear the way for the boys to testify this week.”
“On the eighth day of a child murder and abuse trial, jurors in Skagit County heard how Hana Williams allegedly spent her last hours alive out in the cold being hit by her adopted brothers.
That shocking testimony came from Larry and Carri Williams’ own daughter, Sarah Williams.
“What’s the last memory you have of Hana?” asked prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula. The question left Sarah in tears and forced the judge to call a courtroom break.
Sarah was just 10 when her adopted sister Hana died behind the family’s Sedro-Woolley home from hypothermia and malnutrition. Sarah told jurors Hana spent her final night on a closet floor while the rest of the Williams children were tucked in bed.
“When you went to bed at night, would Hana be in the closet?” asked Kaholokula.
“Yes,” Sarah said.
Two of the Williams’ seven children testified that Hana and Immanuel—both adopted from Ethiopia—were spanked for disobeying Carri, a homemaker, and Larry, a Boeing worker.
The parents could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted of assault and manslaughter.
They’ve had no contact with their children for nearly two years.
Sarah — now living with relatives – said the adopted kids were fed frozen vegetables and soaked sandwiches.
“Mom would put water on them,” said Sarah.
Sarah says Hana spent her last few hours outside on a cold May night walking around the patio. Carri has repeatedly said she told the teen to come inside.
But Sarah contradicted her own mother — and says mom told Hana to keep moving.
“She was doing jumping jacks and standing and sitting to keep warm,” said Sarah.
But when the frail teen stopped, Sarah says her mom ordered her two older brothers outside to punish the girl.
“They were giving her spankings on the leg. Mom told them to,” Sarah said.
The next time anyone looked outside, Hana was dead, jurors were told.
“Hana was lying facedown on the ground,” Sarah said, as she cried.
Sarah says her brothers hit Immanuel and Hana repeatedly. Both boys were given immunity from any charges because prosecutors want jurors to hear they were told to do so by their parents.”
“When Carri Williams made her adopted daughter, Hana, spend a night or day in a closet as a punishment, she would play a recording of the Bible, Carri’s 11-year-old biological son testified this morning.“She was trying to get Hana’s brain to think differently,” the boy said.”"No one else ever slept in a closet, their 11-year-old son said this morning. When Hana did, she ate her meals there or outside on the patio, he said. The adopted son often ate outside with her, but the biological children usually didn’t, he said. Their dinners were served cold while everyone else’s were warm, he said.The adopted children were spanked every day because they disobeyed their new parents more than did the biological children, who were “rarely” spanked, the boy testified. He went on to say he’d never seen the adopted children be spanked.
Hana collapsed around midnight the night she died. The boy on the stand this morning said he’d gone to bed at about 10:30 p.m., but he remembered Hana had been outside since it was light out.
Prosecutor Rich Weyrich asked the boy what he remembered happening that day and night.
“Well, Hana was getting cold, so mom told her to do jumping jacks, but she wouldn’t do jumping jacks,” the boy said.
The Williamses’ 13-year-old biological daughter said the same thing Tuesday, adding that two of her older brothers went outside more than once to hit Hana with a switch when she tried to stop exercising.
Weyrich brought up a past interview in which the boy said Carri once gathered the children to watch and laugh as Hana gave them a “big show” on the patio. The boy said this morning he didn’t remember saying that.”
An Ethiopian man believed to be Hana’s biological cousin is set to take the stand this afternoon.”
- Aug 5: “Biological Williams children never missed more than one meal in a row, but adopted ones sometimes did, bio daughter says. “
- Aug 5: “Adopted children were the only ones to get hit on bottom of feet or fed wet peanut butter sandwiches, Williams daughter says”
- Aug 5:”Biological Williams daughter: Hana “didn’t look cold” the night she died of hypothermia”
- Aug 5: “Hana was hit on backs of legs the night she died, Williams daughter says. Autopsy doc last week pointed out marks there.”
- Aug 5: “Adopted children missed more meals than the other children because “they were being disobedient,” Williams daughter says.”
- Aug 5: “Williams daughter says adopted children were spanked on sides of their legs, their bottoms, sometimes the tops of their heads”
- Aug 5: “Hana was 1st to sleep in shower room; moved to closet when parents put adopted boy in shower room, Williams daughter says”
- Aug 6: “Biological Williams daughter says Hana didn’t just spend nights in the closet; sometimes she was in there during the day. “
- Aug 6: “Biological Williams daughter says she never saw anyone take food to the closet for Hana when she was in there.”
- Aug 6: “Sometimes Carri put water on the adopted children’s sandwiches; sometimes the biological kids did it, Williams daughter says.”
- Aug 6: “Williams daughter says Carri Williams told her Hana lied and disobeyed, but she can’t think of an example of that happening”
- Aug 6: “Adopted Williams son back on the stand now. He says he only got to participate in one Christmas in three years at the home. “
- Aug 6: “Lots of squabbling by attorneys over terminology used by sign language interpreters, especially “spanking” vs. “beating.”"
- Aug 6: “Apparently the family had a specific sign that meant “spanking” with the switches they used, but the boy wasn’t using that sign.”
- Aug 7: “Youngest biological Williams son, 11, on stand this morning. He says adopted sister was only one who ever slept in the closet “
- Aug 7: “Williams son says mom played recording of Bible when adopted girl was in closet “to get Hana’s brain to think differently.” “
- Aug 7:”Williams son, on what happened the night his adopted sis died of hypothermia: “She wouldn’t do jumping jacks” as instructed. “
- Aug 7:”Adopted boy got cards sometimes, no gifts; Hana barely got a “happy birthday,” Williams son testifies. Other kids got cake. “
- Aug 7:”Interpreter is MIA. Hana’s cousin’s testimony moved to tomorrow. Judge: “This is about as inconvenient as a no-show can be.” “
- Aug 7:”Neighbors testified this afternoon they saw Hana walking 20-30 feet behind family. One said Hana gave her “a little smile.” “
- Aug 8: “Adopted Williams son on stand for 4th time this a.m. Defense elicits testimony pain from being hit by parents was temporary. “
- Aug 8: “Larry Williams’ attorneys still plan to subpoena adopted boy’s deaf interpreter as a witness, as they indicated Tuesday. “
“Two biological sons of Larry and Carri Williams will not be charged with any crime based on testimony they give in their parents’ trial.The sons had said through their attorneys they planned to assert their Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions on the stand. Their adopted brother implicated them in some of the abuse he said he and the Williamses’ adopted daughter suffered at their new family’s handsProsecutors had not planned to offer the biological sons immunity, and instead said they would not ask questions that could incriminate them.
Judge Susan K. Cook said she was prepared to rule they would not testify at all because defense attorneys couldn’t properly cross-examine them if some topics were off-limits.
But then Carri Williams’ attorneys said they intended to call the sons to the stand even if prosecutors did not. That complicated matters, Cook said.
Now that the sons have immunity and will testify without limitations, Larry Williams’ defense team will have a chance to interview them to prepare. To give them time to do that, the trial will not convene in court Monday.
The Williamses’ adopted son and his foster mother were set to testify Monday and will now need to be rescheduled.
Prosecutors will call the sons to the stand no earlier than Thursday.”
“Wednesday was day 10 in the Skagit murder and abuse trial, and a boy who says he was beaten by his adopted parents snapped on the stand.
The defense tried to poke holes in Immanuel Williams’ story and paint him as a lair with an attitude problem.
The frustration was clear as the 11-year-old, who is deaf, fired answers through his interpreters.
“I said no! Asking me that question again and again, it’s enough!” signed Immanuel.
Immanuel spent days testifying he and his adopted sister, Hana Williams, were beaten and humiliated by their adopted parents, Larry and Carri Williams. The couple could face life in prison if convicted.
Hana died of starvation and hypothermia at their gated Sedro-Woolley home in 2011.
Larry’s attorney, Rachel Forde, characterized the Ethiopian boy as a troublemaker who lied to the couple and refused to do lessons assigned by his mom, who home-schooled the adopted kids and the Williams’ own seven children.
“Because they’re not your boss, you would refuse to do it again, wouldn’t you?” said Forde.
“Yes,” said Immanuel.
Immanuel says he was hit on his feet and on his head until he bled. But Forde accused him of exaggerating a simple spank — a word Immanuel signed he does not understand.
“He’s playing games. He’s pretending not to understand words when I ask,” Said Forde.
In the middle of testimony, Forde questioned the interpreter, trying to catch Immanuel in a lie.
“Does Immanuel understand the finger-spelling of ‘spank’ or not?” said Forde.
“I can’t answer that because I can’t measure his comprehension.” said the interpreter.
Two hours later, Immanuel was still confused.
“There have been a lot of changes, so I need to understand exactly what you’re talking about,” he said.”
The boy, who is deaf, testified today through sign-language interpreters he thought his adoptive parents “were kinda nuts.”
He has previously said in court that Larry and Carri hit him with a switch or a belt, sometimes on the bottom of his feet or his head, if he disobeyed them. He also said they sometimes made him eat meals outside, even if it was snowing.
The boy told defense attorney Rachel Forde his foster family is “very nice.”
“They didn’t beat me, spank me or anything,” he said.
Forde spent much of the morning wrangling with interpreters over the sign-language translations of “spank,” “beat,” “whip” and other such words, trying to clarify that the connotation of what she said in her questions was coming across in the translation to American Sign Language.
Forde then formally subpoenaed court-certified deaf interpreter Clyde Vincent, who has been translating for the boy, as well as the boy’s victim advocate, who has accompanied him in conversations with prosecutors.
Forde said she is not sure whether she’ll call Vincent to the stand but said she wants the opportunity to do so.”
“In the hours before Hana Williams collapsed in her adoptive family’s backyard and succumbed to hypothermia, her adoptive mother and siblings watched her limping and seemed to be “laughing at her,” the family’s adopted son testified Thursday.At Skagit Valley Hospital later that night, emergency physician Janette Tomlinson told Larry and Carri Williams their adopted daughter had died. Larry got “teary-eyed,” but Carri was calm and talkative, the doctor testified.
“She was not real distraught,” Tomlinson said.
Larry and Carri Williams are standing trial on charges of homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death, and first-degree assault of their adopted son. They have pleaded not guilty.
Tomlinson said she was surprised Hana died of hypothermia because it didn’t make sense to her “that a teenage girl wouldn’t know to come in out of the cold” at her own home. Defense attorneys have asserted Hana refused to come inside, but prosecutors have pointed out Hana was often sent outside as a punishment.
Tomlinson examined Hana’s body after pronouncing her dead at 1:30 a.m. on May 12, 2011. She noticed marks on Hana’s thighs — the same ones a forensic pathologist who performed her autopsy said suggested the girl had recently been struck “at least 14 times” with an implement like the one the Williamses used to discipline their children.
Calling Child Protective Services is common practice if a child dies, but Tomlinson said she did not call because they were already on their way. However, if Hana had come to the emergency room alive for some other reason, and had those marks on her legs, CPS would have been called, Tomlinson said.
The Williamses’ family doctor, Harold Clark, testified Thursday that he never noticed bruises or marks on any of the Williams children and never noticed any “concerning interaction” with their parents that might have warranted calling authorities.
Clark last saw Hana in April 2009, about two years before she died, and last saw the adopted boy in July 2010.
The adopted boy, who is about 12 years old and deaf, testified Thursday through sign-language interpreters that he thought his adoptive parents “were kinda nuts.”
He has previously said in court that his parents hit him with a switch or a belt, sometimes on the bottom of his feet or his head, if he disobeyed them. He also said they sometimes made him eat meals outside, even if it was snowing.
Defense lawyer Rachel Forde asked the boy Thursday about the pain and marks from being hit, saying, “But it was only temporary, wasn’t it?”
When Forde asked the boy about behavioral problems he had when he entered foster care, he said he was having flashbacks of what had happened at the Williams house. A therapist has diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and pointed to abuse in the Williams house as the cause.
The boy told Forde his foster family is “very nice.”
“They didn’t beat me, spank me or anything,” he said.
Forde spent much of Thursday morning wrangling with interpreters over the sign-language translations of “spank,” “beat,” “whip” and other such words, trying to clarify that the connotation of what she said in her questions was coming across in the translation to American Sign Language.
Forde formally subpoenaed court-certified deaf interpreter Clyde Vincent, who has been translating for the boy, as well as the boy’s victim advocate, who has accompanied him in conversations with prosecutors.
Forde said she is not sure she’ll call Vincent to the stand but wants the opportunity to do so.
Thursday was the first time race has come up in the almost three weeks of the trial, and it got only a passing mention, as Forde asked the boy, who was adopted from Ethiopia: “Your new family looked more like you than the Williamses, right? … And your new family had dark skin, just like you, right?”
She then moved on to another topic.
The boy’s testimony ended with Forde repeatedly suggesting Detective Teresa Luvera of the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office told him things about his parents and about Hana’s death. He repeated back to Forde that Luvera had only asked questions.
“I said no,” he said through his interpreter, who raised her voice to reflect the boy’s growing agitation. “Asking me that question again and again — it’s enough! I said Teresa didn’t tell me anything.”
An Ethiopian man believed to be Hana’s biological cousin is scheduled to testify Friday afternoon. His testimony has had to be rescheduled twice as the court awaits an interpreter.”
“A girl whose adoptive parents are accused of abusing her to death was likely “at least 15” years old, a forensic dentist who examined her teeth testified this morning at the parents’ trial.But the girl’s biological cousin, who testified Friday afternoon, said she would have been 13 when she died because he remembers when she was born.Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in their adopted daughter Hana’s death. They also are charged with first-degree assault in connection with alleged abuse of their adopted son. They have each pleaded not guilty.
For the homicide-by-abuse charge to apply, prosecutors must prove Hana was younger than 16 when she died. The girl’s exact age has been at issue throughout the investigation.
Hana was believed to be about 13 when she died, according to the birthdate estimate on her adoption records. Her cousin, Tenssay Kassaye Woldetsadeik, recalled her being born in 1989 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is about eight years behind the calendar used in the Western world.
Woldetsadeik said his sisters raised Hana, whose mother left shortly after she was born and father died when she was about 3. He said he watched her grow up until the extended family could no longer afford to take care of her, at which point they took her to an orphanage at about age 9. He and other family members visited Hana at the orphanage monthly until she was adopted about two years later, he said.
Woldetsadeik said he did not recall whether he or his family members told the orphanage her exact age or birthdate. Acquaintances of Carri Williams have testified she thought Hana was older than the family was told she was.
Hana’s body was exhumed in January to settle the matter, but experts who examined it came to different conclusions about her age and could not definitively place it on one side of 16 years or the other.
Gary Bell, a forensic dentist who has helped identify bodies for the FBI, military and Washington State Patrol, took X-rays of Hana’s teeth and compared them to studies showing typical tooth development for children of various ages. Those comparisons offered a possible age range for Hana, with the most likely result in the middle of the range.
“My opinion is that she’s at least 15 years old, but she could be anywhere from 13 to 18,” he said.
Prosecutors asked Bell if he would quarrel if told Hana was 13. He said no. Defense attorneys asked if he would quarrel if told Hana was 18. He said no.
Factors such as genetics, malnutrition and disease can affect tooth development, Bell testified.
Defense attorneys cross-examining Woldetsadeik quibbled with his record of Hana’s birth, which he wrote in the family Bible when Hana’s father died. He said he could have written the month wrong, but the day and year were correct.
They also questioned his testimony on how long Hana lived with his family, when she started school and how old he was when she was born. His answers to questions on the stand about those topics appeared to conflict with answers he gave during phone interviews with defense attorneys, they pointed out.
Also on the stand Friday were Larry Williams’ sister and brother-in-law, Karolyn and Bill Cheney. Both testified they never noticed cuts, marks or bruises on any of Larry’s children.
When Hana died, they had not seen the adopted children in more than a year.
Karolyn Cheney said that looking into the casket at Hana’s funeral, she noted the girl’s shaved head, slender face and “not full” body.
“I didn’t recognize her as Hana,” she said.
When it came time to put the casket in the grave, Karolyn Cheney said she saw Carri Williams drape her body over her adopted daughter’s casket and sob loudly, “Hana, I’m so sorry.””
“A man who flew to Washington to testify in a high-profile murder trial is now missing.
The witness, Kassaye Woldetsidik, is the cousin of Hana Williams, who starved and froze to death at her adopted parent’s home two years ago.
Woldetsidik testified Friday in Mount Vernon about Williams’ life in Ethiopia before she was adopted.
“I was watching her always. We were close.” He said.
Now some think he’s using the trip to stay in the U.S. illegally.
The judge cleared him to return to Ethiopia on Sunday.
Prosecutors called Mount Vernon Police when he missed the plane.
Officers searched his motel room.
“Belongings were there. It didn’t look like anything was out of place. The individual just wasn’t there,” said Mount Vernon Lt. Chris Cammock.
Larry Williams’ attorney, Rachel Forde says Woldetsidik begged to come to the U-S for months. We asked if she’s surprised he’s missing.
“No, no we’re not at all.” Said Forde.
Prosecutors called Woldetsidik to testify against Larry and Carri Williams, who are accused of abusing Hana and another boy they adopted from Ethiopia.
“In our pre-trial interview, when we asked to speak with him, he was very reluctant to speak with us. He said he had to come in person.” Said Forde.
The Williams, who are parents to seven other children, are charged with homicide by abuse, manslaughter and assault.
But homicide by abuse can only be charged when the victim is a child 16 years or younger.
Woldetsidik said an entry made in the family Bible on the day Hana was born proves she was 13 years old when she died.
We asked prosecutors what this means for the case but they refused to comment.
We contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They said Woldetsidik was given a seven-day pass to be in the U.S., as long as he left on Sunday.
He is now considered an absconder and police are investigating”
“The biological cousin of Hana Williams has reportedly overstayed his visa to the United States after testifying Friday in the homicide-by-abuse trial of Hana’s adoptive parents.Tenssay Kassaye Woldetsadeik was scheduled to fly back to Ethiopia on Sunday. Mount Vernon police are now searching for him, attorneys said this afternoon in court.
Woldetsadeik testified he remembers Hana’s birth and his family raised Hana for the first few years of her life, and she would have been about 13 when she died in May 2011. For the homicide-by-abuse charge to apply, Hana must have been younger than 16.
Larry and Carri Williams also are charged with first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death and first-degree assault in connection with alleged abuse of their adopted son.
Defense attorneys said this afternoon Woldetsadeik’s actions speak to his bias and possible ulterior motives for testifying. They now intend to call a Mount Vernon police officer to testify about the situation.” [Larry's defense team is the one who contacted this guy to begin with!]
Witnesses have testified Immanuel Williams was tortured and suffers PTSD. But attorneys for Larry and Carri Williams say he’s lying about what happened because that’s what police want to hear.”You have more and more allegations against the Williams, isn’t that right?” Asked Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde.”I had a lot to talk about with the counselor,” said Immanuel, who is deaf.Attorneys for the Williams tried to prove Immanuel is having fun in court — playing video games during breaks and getting treats like hamburgers when he tells investigators terrible things about the couple.“You’re no longer one of dozens of kids in an orphanage, right?” Said Forde.”I don’t think so, I’m not,” said Immanuel.Immanuel and a girl named Hana were adopted from Ethiopia by Larry, a Boeing worker, and Carri, a stay-at-home mom.
Immanuel says the conservative Christian couple beat the adopted kids, locked them in closets and fed them frozen food — which is very different from how the Williams’ own 7-children say they were treated.
Hana froze and starved to death at the family’s gated Sedro-Woolley home 2 years ago.”Everyone is treating you special, aren’t they?” Said Forde.
“I think so,” said Immanuel, through an interpreter.
Forde accused the boy’s counselors and interpreters of putting words in his mind — something Immanuel denied.
“Just like after you saw the sign assault signed, you copied it and started using it yourself, right?” Said Forde.
“No I already knew because I had seen it in action myself,” said Immanuel.
The couple could face life in prison if convicted of homicide by abuse, manslaughter and assault.
“No matter what you say in court there won’t be any consequences for you, right?” said Forde.
“Yes, that’s correct,” said Immanuel.”
“A juror was dismissed for sleeping during testimony on Wednesday, the 13th day of the Skagit County homicide and abuse case.The jury was excused for a morning break last Wednesday when Judge Susan K. Cook alerted attorneys a male juror was sleeping in his seat.”Take my word for it, he’s sleeping,” said Cook.The jury was brought into the courtroom and warned to pay attention to witnesses describing what led Hana Williams to starve and freeze to death at her adopted Sedro-Woolley home two years ago.”If you find yourself having a difficult time (staying awake), feel free to stand up and stretch to get the blood flowing to your brain again,” said Cook.Jurors trying to stay focused as they listen to five to six hours of testimony a day, take notes and stand up to stretch. They have also asked for the air conditioner to be turned up.But a week after the judge’s warning, the male juror was dismissed for falling asleep again and was replaced by an alternate.Jurors will decide if Larry and Carri Williams caused Hana’s death through abuse and if they also abused her adopted brother, Immanuel.The boy says the couple beat the Ethiopian kids, fed them frozen food and forced them to sleep in locked closets as punishment.The parents could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted.The trial, which is expected to take six weeks, started with three alternate jurors. There are now two left, so the juror’s removal will not disrupt the trial.”
“Porterfield said two overarching themes in the children’s treatment led her to believe they were tortured: that it was “systematic, planful (and) deliberate,” and that it combined physical and psychological aspects.Punishments the Williams children got were “not impulsive or off the cuff” but were part of a consistently administered plan to curb rebelliousness, she said.
The adopted children got more severe and more frequent punishments than the biological ones, and they intensified over time, Porterfield said, based on testimony she read from the biological children.
Torture typically inflicts both physical and psychological anguish, Porterfield said. To that end, she said, many of the discipline techniques the Williamses used amount to torture:
- Humiliation: Hana was told to shower with a hose outside instead of using the family bathroom. The other children described her in interviews as “filthy, dirty and diseased,” Porterfield said. Her adopted younger brother was sprayed with cold water in the bathtub or from the hose if he wet his pants. Not only is the cold unpleasant, being hosed off outside in various states of undress is humiliating, especially for an adolescent girl, Porterfield said.
- Degradation: In interview transcripts Porterfield read, the biological children described Hana’s hair being cut short because she cut the grass wrong, and Hana being told not to speak unless spoken to or asked a question. Not being allowed to speak is “particularly degrading,” Porterfield said.
- Physical isolation: The adopted children started out sleeping in shared bedrooms with their new brothers and sisters, but were later sent to a shower room, barn or closet. Sometimes Hana was left in the closet for 24 hours at a time, which can be physically disorienting, Porterfield said. Being locked in a shower room all night was likely worse for the adopted son because he is deaf, she said.
- Social isolation: The adopted children ate many meals separate from the rest of the family and were left out of holidays or denied birthday celebrations if they disobeyed. “One of the children said it was ‘the norm’ in the house — the abnormal situation would be her with everyone,” Porterfield said. This can have “serious psychological consequences” for a child, she said.
- Food: The adopted children’s lunch sandwiches were doused with water and their dinner was often cold leftovers topped with frozen vegetables. It’s emotionally distressing that “their family who eats regular food feels they don’t deserve regular food,” Porterfield said. Hana sometimes went a day or two without any food, one of the biological sons said in the materials Porterfield read about the case. Then she’d sneak food in the middle of the night and be punished more for that, creating an “expanding cycle,” she said. Missing meals and eating unpalatable food are physically unpleasant, but beyond that, being served different food than the rest of the family and sent outside to eat it alone tells a child she is “less than,” Porterfield said.
- Corporal punishment: “The amount of hitting that appears to be happening to this child was remarkable,” Porterfield said of Hana, citing interviews in which the biological Williams children said she got “by far the most spankings of anybody.”
People who are tortured can have mood problems and become depressed, anxious, nervous, frightened, disorganized and distressed, Porterfield said. They can even dissociate from the experience, which it appears Hana did, she said, citing statements from the biological children about Hana’s “blank face” or “evil stare” while being spanked.
The adopted boy has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and his therapist pointed in her testimony to the Williams home as the cause. The boy has flashbacks and nightmares, and has said he fears Larry and Carri Williams will climb in the window of his foster home and hurt him.
“He said he thought he would be the next to die,” she said.
Porterfield said the boy got “very tense and nervous” when she interviewed him.
“He can’t stop thinking about what happened to him,” she said.
The boy also describes feeling worthless, blaming himself for what happened and thinking he could have stopped Hana from dying, Porterfield said.
Although his experiences in Ethiopia can also be risk factors for psychological problems later on, what the boy told Porterfield led her to believe the Williams home traumatized the boy, she testified.
A child is building a sense of self and relationships in the world, Porterfield said, and the message the adopted Williams children got was, “You’re not valuable. You’re not safe.””
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/15/13 by Gina Cole]
Update 14/August 17, 2013
Information from August 15 and 16
“After Hana Williams died in May 2011, her adoptive parents told their remaining children not to tell police or Child Protective Services about some of their discipline methods, their son testified Thursday.
“Um, they said not to mention anything about spanking, and not to talk about the shower room or the closet,” Jacob Williams said.
Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death, and with first-degree assault of a child in connection with alleged abuse of their younger adopted son.
They have pleaded not guilty.
Jacob, 18, and his 16-year-old brother were the fourth and fifth biological Williams child to take the stand in their parents’ trial.
Prosecutors have granted the two sons, who have been living with cousins in Spokane, a form of immunity in exchange for their testimony. The two had said through their attorneys they intended to assert their Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions on the stand, doubling down on that plan after their adoptive brother testified they hit him in the same ways their parents did.
The Williams children “thought it was awesome” their parents were adopting two Ethiopian children, Jacob said. The two new children seemed energetic when they first came, and Hana “was quiet but happy,” he said.
But soon, the adopted boy — about 7 years old at the time, and deaf — started lying and disobeying, Jacob said. He could not name any specific examples of either adopted child disobeying, but later said things like not standing in the exact spot they were told to stand could elicit a punishment.
Children in the Williams home were spanked with a piece of plastic tubing, a glue stick, a belt or a wooden spatula, Jacob said. Larry and Carri, or sometimes the three oldest boys, typically doled out a specific number of swats for specific actions, he said — for instance, 10 for lying.
There was no maximum number of times a child could be hit per day, Jacob said Thursday. In a deposition last year, he said the adopted boy was hit an average of 30 times a day.
After her first year in the Williams home, Hana “probably got a spanking almost every day,” Jacob said. By the next year, the adopted boy did, too, he said.
Most spankings were to a child’s rear end, he said, but the adopted children were also hit on their heads, hands, legs and feet.
“Dad would spank them on the head and I don’t think Mom ever did that,” Jacob said.
The adopted children were sometimes given cold leftovers and frozen vegetables to eat outside, away from the rest of the family, who never ate those things, Jacob said. In the final six months of her life, Hana was eating about two meals a week outside regardless of the weather, he said.
They could miss meals altogether for transgressions such as not doing their homework correctly, but were given a bigger meal than usual the next time they ate, Jacob said. Hana occasionally went “a day or two” without a meal, he said, but he couldn’t remember why.
The biological children rarely, if ever, missed a meal while the adopted children lived in the home, Jacob said.
Hana was locked up at night in a barn, shower room or closet because she’d been caught stealing leftover dinner food, Jacob said. The closet became Hana’s bedroom during the final six months of her life, he said.
Hana was locked in the closet with a sleeping bag but no toilet and no control over the light switch, all night and sometimes for as long as six hours during the day, Jacob testified. Carri Williams often played gospel or classical music, or an audiobook of the Bible, from outside the closet, he said.
The night Hana collapsed in the family’s backyard and succumbed to hypothermia and malnutrition, Jacob had been doing school work but checked on her occasionally during the five or six hours she was outside, Jacob said.
“She didn’t really look happy,” he said.
At one point, Carri Williams had Jacob go out and hit Hana five times with a switch and direct her to exercise to keep warm, he said.
Another time, Carri went out herself and hit Hana on the backs of her legs with a switch, the 16-year-old son testified.
A forensic pathologist who conducted Hana’s autopsy pointed out long, straight marks on the backs of her legs that indicated she could have recently been hit “at least 14 times” with an implement like the plastic piping the Williamses used on their children.
Also on Thursday, clinical psychologist Katherine Porterfield concluded her testimony. Porterfield, who works with trauma and torture survivors, spent all day Wednesday on the stand explaining her conclusion that the Williams children were tortured.
People’s experiences early in life, particularly of “extreme adversity” and neglect, can affect how they handle stress later on, she said.
The way the adopted children responded to their treatment in the Williams home could have been shaped by their experiences in Ethiopia before they were adopted, Porterfield said, noting she does not know what life was like for these children in Ethiopia.
The adopted boy, who is now about 12, explained during the investigation of the case that the orphanage he was at in Ethiopia was prison-like, defense attorney Rachel Forde pointed out. Porterfield said that could have affected the way he experienced being locked in a shower room at night at the Williams home.
Studies show more international adoptees are referred to mental health services, but the majority are well-adjusted and present fewer problems than domestic adoptees do, Porterfield said. The age at which a child is adopted does not affect behavior problems, she added.
In the depositions Porterfield reviewed, biological Williams children described Hana as “rebellious,” but could not name many examples to back it up.
“She’s called rebellious so often (in the children’s testimony), I pictured this child as more out of control than it seems she was,” Porterfield said.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/16/13 by Gina Cole]
“Trial stretches on:At the outset, attorneys estimated the Williams trial would last four to six weeks. On Thursday, with the end of the fourth week approaching, they said it could be longer.“I’ve given up on any possible deadline for the ending of this trial,” Judge Susan Cook told attorneys.Cook broke the news to the jury before dismissing them Thursday, telling them to plan on being in court through the second week of September.”
“When Hana Williams collapsed in the backyard of her adoptive family’s Sedro-Woolley-area home, her eight siblings were under instructions from their mother not to speak to her, Hana’s adoptive brother testified Friday morning.
As a form of punishment, Hana sometimes was not allowed to speak unless spoken to for a day or two at a time, the 16-year-old boy said. No other children were punished that way, but the Williamses’ deaf adoptive son has testified the family was once told not to sign to him.
Hana died in May 2011 of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition, according to an autopsy report. Larry and Carri Williams are accused of abusing the teen to death and assaulting their younger adopted son. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide by abuse, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault of a child.
The 16-year-old boy testifying for most of Friday first took the stand Thursday afternoon after his 18-year-old brother, Jacob, had testified for several hours.
Prosecutors have granted those two sons, who have been living with cousins in Spokane, a form of immunity in exchange for their testimony. The two had said through their attorneys they intended to assert their Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions on the stand, doubling down on that plan after their adoptive brother testified they hit him in the same ways their parents did.
The 16-year-old said Friday he had not played down any of his previous testimony out of fear that he’d be charged with a crime or a desire to protect his parents.
The boy also said Friday he did not remember many of the things he has said in past testimony, including a statement from the previous day. He said Thursday he’d seen Carri Williams strike Hana the night she died, but on Friday, he said he didn’t remember that. The two oldest sons, Joshua and Jacob, each also hit Hana with a switch the night she died, according to previous testimony from Jacob and the 16-year-old.
The boy also discussed various punishments the adopted children got in the house and who doled them out. For example, Carri Williams spanked Hana for continuing problems with her handwriting and bed-making, and once had her hair shorn off as a punishment for cutting the grass too short, several biological Williams children have testified. The adopted boy was once spanked for trying to sneak some of the food the rest of the family had for dinner when he’d been served something else to eat outside, he said.
Hana, too, was disciplined for taking food without permission. She was locked up at night in a shower room, barn or closet because she’d been caught stealing leftover dinner food, Jacob Williams said Thursday. At times, she could be in the shower room or closet almost a whole day, the 16-year-old Williams boy testified in an August 2011 hearing. The closet became her bedroom for the final six months of her life.
The adopted children were the only two who ever had to sleep in the shower room, the 16-year-old Williams boy said Friday.
He also explained that the Williamses gave their three oldest sons the authority to discipline the younger children, and that he sometimes spanked his younger siblings, including the adopted ones.
The boy said he was hit with the switch once during the three years the adopted children were in the house, but he could not remember the circumstances. His older brother said Thursday that by their final year in the house, the adopted children were being spanked or somehow punished almost every day.
Friday was the first time a witness has been asked about the book “To Train Up a Child,” by Michael and Debi Pearl. The Williamses had a copy in their home and have explained to acquaintances that they use the methods in the book to punish their children into obedience, according to a 2011 affidavit from the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office. The plastic plumbing pipe Larry and Carri use matches the one recommended in the book.
Prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula had the 16-year-old boy confirm the book was in their home. He said he’d never read it but knew it was “a book to show how to raise your children.”
Attorneys spent much of the 16-year-old’s testimony asking him about the night Hana died. The boy had seen her several times when he looked out a kitchen window, and had helped his mother and older brothers carry her unconscious body inside from the rain around midnight.
The boy said he did not see Hana shivering and did not see goosebumps on her body. One of the Williamses’ biological daughters testified last week that Hana did not seem cold. Carri Williams told Hana to do exercises such as jumping jacks to stay warm, the 16-year-old said Friday. No one brought her a jacket, he said, but she never asked for one.
The 16-year-old said Friday he was “confused” when Child Protective Services removed him and his siblings from the home, and that he still feels that way two years later. On Friday, his voice shaking, he said he hopes the outcome of the case will be “that our family is back together.””
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/16/13 by Gina Cole]
“Larry and Carri Williams’ son Joseph broke down remembering what his mother told him to do with the girl’s body.
Anxiety, even anger, about being called to testify against his parents made it tough for Joseph to talk.
“I don’t remember,” he said repeatedly.
Joseph struggled with simple questions, like what his adopted sister Hana was wearing the night she died, even after he was shown her T-shirt and shorts.
“I don’t recall anything,” said Joseph. He finally broke down in tears.
“We’re going to take a recess, ladies and gentlemen,” said Judge Susan Cook.”
“”There was a sheet over her,” said Joseph.
He said his mother told him to bring the girl’s body inside, where she performed CPR and called 911.
“My mom wanted me to go out with my two oldest brothers because Hana was lying just off the back patio,” said Joseph.
Joseph says his parents, Larry and Carri, were strict.
All nine children, including Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel, were spanked.
Immanuel said the Ethiopian pair were hit with belts and a spatula, fed frozen food and forced to sleep in closets.
Joseph and his two older brothers were also allowed to spank the younger children as punishment.
“From whom did you get that authority to discipline?” asked prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula.
“My parents,” said Joseph.”
[KIRO TV 8/16/13 by Lee Stoll]
Update 15/August 19, 2013
August 19 testimony
“After about 12 hours of testimony spread over three and a half weeks, the adopted son of Larry and Carri Williams is finished testifying in their trial.
When attorneys indicated they had no further questions for the boy, Judge Susan Cook smiled at him and said, “You’re done!”
On the stand this morning, the boy said Carri would rub the plastic plumbing pipe she used to spank him up and down his face, occasionally flicking his nose with it.
He also repeated previous testimony that he and Hana were punished more than the other children.
When the boy stepped down just before 11 a.m., Carri turned to watch her adopted son walk out of the courtroom, her mouth trembling. He didn’t look at her.
The Williamses’ 16-year-old biological son continued his testimony next. His parents’ attorneys asked him to confirm that although he did not want to talk to social workers or testify at previous hearings, he had told the truth then and was telling the truth at trial.
Prosecutors have granted the teen, along with his 18-year-old brother, Jacob, a form of immunity in exchange for their testimony.
The 16-year-old’s testimony continues this afternoon.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/19/13 by Gina Cole]
Tweets from Gina Cole :”County Sheriff’s deputy: the night Hana died, one son told me Hana was possessed by demons”
“When Williams children were removed from home in 2011, the adopted boy appeared healthy and didn’t cry, CPS investigator says”
“Funeral home owner was just on stand for two minutes, verifying he filled out
#HanaWilliams‘ death certificate”
“School district employee just spent four minutes on the stand, confirming the document parents submit to homeschool children. ”
Update 16/August 20
Recap of trial to date and Washington state investigation of starving adoptee cases
“Immanuel Williams’ face barely showed over the witness stand.
Many in the courtroom could see only the top of his chair swivel slightly and his eyebrows scrunch up in confusion.
Sign-language interpreters relayed questions to the deaf 12-year-old boy, and the answers flashed from his fingertips.
“Very often that happened,” he signed, “that I went without food.”
“The case has highlighted the gaps in oversight of adoptions in Washington and drawn attention to the challenges that some Ethiopian adoptees and their new parents may face. Parents and leaders in Washington’s adoption system are closely following the trial, as are Seattle-area Ethiopians, who have attended proceedings every day, almost as a vigil.
After China, most children adopted into the United States from abroad now come from Ethiopia, according to the State Department. Disease, poverty and fraud have increasingly brought children to Ethiopian orphanages and eventually to American homes — from a little more than 100 adoptions in 2002 to more than 1,500 in 2012.
Many of these children are 5 to 12 years old and may have lived in an orphanage for years. For some, past traumatic experiences, coupled with language and cultural differences, can bring challenges within a family.
Defense lawyers have sought to portray Carri and Larry Williams as misguided but well-intentioned parents, saying she worked to make the house peaceful and home-schooled their seven biological and two adopted children while he worked from noon to midnight as a millwright at Boeing.
Hana and Immanuel’s health problems, including their scars and a stomach condition that hastened Hana’s death, existed before the children were adopted, defense attorneys have said.
Neither side disputes that the couple harshly disciplined their children — and the defense says both regret certain parenting decisions. What jurors must decide is whether their parenting amounted to criminal behavior.
Family’s home life
Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich has charged that the Williamses engaged in a pattern of abuse that left permanent physical scars and was tantamount to torture, harming Immanuel and causing Hana’s death.
The maximum penalty for each of the charges of homicide by abuse, manslaughter and child assault — Class A felonies — is life in prison without the possibility of parole and/or a $50,000 fine.
Since the trial began July 26, experts, adoption workers, relatives, acquaintances and law-enforcement officers have answered questions about the family’s home life, Hana’s death and the details of the adoption.
Immanuel has told the court that he and Hana were beaten, made to eat outside or deprived of food altogether. Hana was made to sleep in a closet, bathe outside with a garden hose and relieve herself in a portable toilet instead of the family bathroom.
Five of the Williams’ biological children have also testified, describing details of the punishments their adopted siblings received.
The evening of May 12, 2011, was rainy and cold when Carri Williams called 911 and told dispatchers that Hana was unconscious and face down in the mud after refusing to come indoors. The biological children have testified Hana was in the cold for hours as punishment, and that their mother had told Hana to do jumping-jacks to stay warm.
When Hana stopped, her brothers were instructed to hit her legs with a plastic switch, according to court testimony.
An autopsy showed that Hana, 5 feet tall and weighing 78 pounds, was covered in scratches and bruises and that her hypothermia was hastened by malnutrition and a stomach ailment.
Defense attorney Laura Riquelme has told the court that Carri Williams tried repeatedly to get Hana to come inside that night but she refused. Riquelme also said that Immanuel did not suffer marks and scars at the Williams’ house but rather had them when he came into the family.
Larry Williams’ defense attorney, Rachel Forde, has presented him as unaware of Hana’s condition on her last night and that “certainly he cared about whether Hana lived or died.”
After the state rests its case, perhaps this week, the defense lawyers are expected to call just a handful of witnesses, possibly including acquaintances of the family to testify that the couple were loving and affectionate toward their children.
Hana’s age will continue to be an issue, as the charge of homicide by abuse applies only to children under 16.
No one knows for sure when Hana was born because proper documentation is often missing in adoptions from Ethiopia.
Better oversight needed
The case of Hana and Immanuel is an extreme example of the gaps in Washington’s adoption system.
A variety of agencies oversee the fate of adopted children, whether the child was adopted through a private organization, the courts or the state’s welfare system.
In general, adoptions go very well, said Mary Meinig, director of the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman, an independent agency housed in the governor’s office and charged with protecting children from harm in the child-welfare system.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a failed system in any way,” she said. “I think it can be improved.”
The biggest need is better oversight, whether by the state or a private agency, she said. The state has laws to protect adopted children, but its authority is limited in private adoptions, such as that of Hana and Immanuel.
“They don’t have the power or responsibility to oversee all these adoptions,” she said.
In 2012, a committee of private and public child-welfare agencies, led by the ombudsman’s office and by the Children’s Administration in the Department of Social and Health Services, highlighted 15 cases where an adoption agency or court had “scrutinized and approved” a family for internationally and domestically adopted children who later suffered at the families’ hand.
The families showed a common pattern of physical and emotional abuse, including isolating and depriving children of food.
“In many of these cases, it just continues to spiral to a point where the discipline practices get way out of hand,” ombudsman Patrick Dowd said.
Another problem is that there is no way to track the rates of abuse and neglect in adopted families, he said.
The committee reported that responsibility for the problems is diffuse, with shortcomings at every step in the adoption process — assessing a family, identifying red flags and following up.
“It’s not like we identified a smoking gun,” Dowd said.
Meanwhile, the committee, comprising representatives of the Children’s Administration, Child Protective Services, private adoption agencies and others, is plodding forward, figuring out how to put recommended changes in place, DSHS spokeswoman Chris Case said.
Stronger laws are needed, the committee found, but a bill before the Legislature foundered last session after it was proposed by Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Edmonds, to improve the adoption process.
“These things grind ponderously slow sometimes,” Case said.
Parents following the trial have been shocked by Hana’s death and have tried to understand what went wrong at the Williams’ house.
“We do not do enough to prepare adoptive parents,” said Maureen McCauley Evans, a Seattle-based mother of Ethiopian adoptees and former executive director of three child welfare and adoption organizations on the East Coast. She has been observing the trial since the beginning.
U.S. adoption agencies accredited under an international treaty known as The Hague Convention require parents to undergo at least 10 hours of pre-adoption training that can be completed online — which McCauley Evans called inadequate.
The Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle has tried to help families with adopted children from Ethiopia, offering parenting classes, cultural camps and a welcoming ceremony based on Ethiopian traditions.
“We want others to know that we’re here as resources for them,” outreach-committee member Metti Mulugeta said.”
Adoptive parents on trial in Ethiopian girl’s death
[The Seattle Times 8/19/13 by Anna Boiko-Weyrach]
August 19 Afternoon Testimony
“The night Hana Williams collapsed in her adoptive family’s Sedro-Woolley-area backyard, her 14-year-old adoptive brother told a sheriff’s deputy he thought Hana was possessed by demons, that deputy testified Monday.”
“The fifth week of the Williamses’ trial began Monday with their adopted son wrapping up what has been almost 12 hours of testimony over several weeks.
The boy, who is about 12 years old and deaf, has detailed missing meals, being sent outside to eat cold or frozen food away from the family, being hosed down with cold water if he wet himself, and being hit all over his body with various implements, including a plastic plumbing pipe and a belt.
“But, you know, I had to take my pants off, and then they would beat me,” he said Monday morning through sign-language interpreters.
The boy also said Carri Williams would rub the plastic plumbing pipe up and down his face, occasionally flicking his nose with it.
He repeated previous testimony that he and Hana broke strict family rules and were punished more than the other children, and sometimes were excluded from holiday celebrations.
Defense attorney Laura Riquelme showed him a family Christmas photo of him and his adoptive brothers holding pellet guns, asserting he got the same gift as the other boys and was playing with them.
“They gave me that for the picture only,” he said through his interpreters. “… I didn’t receive any Christmas gifts.”
Other Christmas photos admitted into evidence have shown the boy sitting alone off to the side, and biological Williams children have confirmed he was told to sit there.”
“Rachel Forde, one of Larry Williams’ attorneys, has repeatedly taken issue with sign-language interpreters’ use of various signs to mean words like “spank,” beat” and “whip.” She has asserted in court the boy is pretending not to understand certain words.
Finally, deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula asked the boy if he has told the truth about everything he testified to in court.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he signed.
When attorneys indicated they had no further questions for the boy, Judge Susan Cook smiled at him and said, “You’re done!”
The boy stepped down just before 11 a.m. and Carri Williams turned to watch her adopted son walk out of the courtroom, her mouth trembling. He didn’t look at her.
Teenage son testifies
The Williamses’ 16-year-old biological son — the son who said he thought Hana was possessed by demons — continued his testimony next.
His parents’ attorneys asked him to confirm that although he did not want to talk to authorities or testify at previous hearings, he had told the truth throughout the investigation and at trial. The boy agreed.
“I’m answering these questions because I have to,” he said.
Prosecutors have granted the teen, along with his 18-year-old brother Jacob, a form of immunity in exchange for their testimony.
“I was advised (by my attorney) to plead the Fifth on every single question I was asked (in previous hearings),” he said, referring to his constitutional right not to answer certain questions on the stand.
In his testimony Thursday, Friday and Monday, the boy often told attorneys he did not remember things, once saying he did not remember something he had said the previous day.
Carri Williams spanked Hana during the six or so hours she spent outside the night she died, but only after asking her to come inside, the 16-year-old said.
The boy said he did not see Hana shivering leading up to her death, but she did remove her clothes. Both are signs of hypothermia.
Prosecutors are keeping the 16-year-old under subpoena for now, meaning he could testify again.
The start of the investigation
Sheriff’s deputies and detectives who responded to the Williams home and Skagit Valley Hospital the night Hana died have testified family members were cooperative.
The next day, as is standard practice when a child dies, investigators from Child Protective Services visited the Williams home to assess the safety of the other children.
Leanne King, one of the CPS investigators on that first visit, said Monday the second-oldest Williams son, then 16, met her in the driveway and told her to stay put. The oldest son then came out and did the same, she said.
Finally, Larry and Carri Williams came out of the house, agreeing to speak to investigators only while standing in the driveway. They did not appear distressed or sad, said King.
At one point, Larry Williams turned away and made a sobbing noise, but when he turned back his face looked the same and had no tears on it, King said.
It seemed like he “pretended to cry,” she said. Larry’s attorneys objected to her speculating on whether he was pretending and Judge Cook instructed the jury to disregard that comment.
Carri Williams wore sunglasses the whole time, and her demeanor was “rigid” and “defensive,” King said.
King and her colleague did not get to interview the children that day, but she did not remember the reason the Williamses gave for that.
Instead, the children came out in birth order with “big smiles” on their faces, “as though they were posing for a picture, perhaps,” King said.
“It was unusual to me, given they had experienced the death of their sister the night before,” she said.
In a March 2013 statement to attorneys, King said the children looked “very happy” that day.
Investigators from CPS and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office returned about two weeks later to interview each family member. The house was clean and its appearance offered no cause for concern, CPS investigator Heidi Kennedy said.
Carri Williams said Hana had been in good health the past year and that she had no idea why the girl died, Kennedy testified.
Carri Williams described little about the family’s disciplinary techniques, mentioning nothing about food, hoses, cold showers or places to keep the children isolated, Kennedy testified.
Larry and Carri Williams answered all of Kennedy’s questions and did not appear to disagree with each other at any point during the visit, Kennedy said.
Neither parent tried to stop the interviews with the children, Kennedy said, but they sat in on them, and Carri Williams interjected once.
“She said during the interview (with the adopted boy) that if you lie, you go to hell,” Kennedy said.
After that meeting, Carri Williams asked when the investigation would be closed, Kennedy testified.
“She said she was not interested in any services and wanted the case closed and we were not to interview the children without their permission,” Kennedy testified. “… She said we were not to show up at the house; that we should call and leave a message and she would return the call.”
Child Protective Services does not have the authority to remove children from a home on the spot, Kennedy said. After further investigation, King got a court order to have them removed.
The Williams children were taken out of their parents’ home in July 2011, about two months after Hana’s death.
The 16-year-old son testified Monday that when they were removed from the home, he told his siblings, “Don’t tell them anything.””"
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/19/13 by Gina Cole]
Update 17/August 20
Another recap of the trial
“Week 4 of the Williams trial is now complete. On Monday 8/12 there were no proceedings. Tuesday morning 8/13 the defense continued its cross examination of Immanuel, and once again, did little to undermine his testimony. He is scheduled to reappear, perhaps for the last time, this coming Monday morning 8/19.
[Ethiopian Community in Seattle 8/20/13 by Biniam]
August 20 morning testimony
“Jurors in the trial of Larry and Carri Williams listened this morning to a recording of Carri Williams talking to a Skagit County Sheriff’s detective hours after her adopted daughter collapsed in the family’s backyard and succumbed to hypothermia and malnutrition.
In the interview, Carri Williams tells Detective Ben Hagglund she thought Hana Williams was just being rebellious and refusing to come inside out of the rain.
“I thought she was just pretending that she couldn’t walk because she’s done that before,” Carri Williams tells Hagglund on the recording. “… I just kind of ignored it.”
The Williamses are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s May 2011 death, and with first-degree assault of a child in connection with alleged abuse of their adopted son. They have each pleaded not guilty.
Larry Williams was still at work when Hana collapsed, so Hagglund interviewed Carri Williams only. She was cooperative and answered all the detective’s questions, he testified this morning.
Also this morning, one of Larry Williams’ attorneys, Rachel Forde, subpoenaed prosecutor Rich Weyrich as a witness in the case.
Prosecutors flew a man believed to be Hana’s biological cousin from Ethiopia to testify that she would have been younger than 16 when she died — a requirement for the homicide-by-abuse charge to stick. But when that man, Tenssay Kassaye Woldetsadeik, was scheduled to leave the United States, he missed his flight.
Weyrich and a Mount Vernon Police officer took items from Woldetsadeik’s hotel room while investigating the man’s disappearance, and Weyrich had them at home for three days before turning them over to police, Forde asserted.
The situation casts doubt on the man’s reason for testifying, she said.
Forde told Judge Susan Cook she intends to call Weyrich to the stand because she suspects he had an opportunity to tamper with evidence in the investigation of Woldetsadeik’s disappearance. Witnesses are not generally allowed in the courtroom before they are finished testifying.
“If he’s a witness in this case, I’m not sure he can participate as an attorney,” Cook said.
Ultimately, Weyrich was allowed to stay so the trial could proceed. He has agreed to a recorded interview with a defense investigator.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/20/13 by Gina Cole]
August 20 Tweets from Gina Cole
“Trudy Wise, briefly foster mom to 3 Williams children, says older brothers commanded a younger sister not to wear a swimsuit. ”
“Woman who was briefly a foster mom to 3 Williams kids posted personal opinions on Facebook, breaching confidentiality w/ them”
“Woman who was briefly a foster mom to 3 Williams children: Williams son said “Hana was fat, so we had to take the food away” ”
“Carri Williams told sheriff’s detective on night Hana died that Hana hadn’t brushed her teeth in months”
“Carri Williams’ attorney: I “don’t see the relevance” of making the prosecutor testify”
“Judge quashes subpoena of prosecutor. Defense will not be able to call him to the stand; he’ll not be excluded from courtroom ”
“Sheriff’s detective says Larry and Carri Williams told her Hana was the healthiest member of the family”
“The adopted children might each get hit 40 times a day, a biological daughter told a
#Skagit County Sheriff’s detective”
“Biological Williams daughter told Sheriff’s detective her adopted brother was put in bathtub because he wet self on purpose”
Hana’s Facebook remembrance page
Comments swirling about 7 kids, 2 parents, 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom and financial issues and why AAI would approve a family in this situation.
Update 18/August 21
Editorial on Hana
Excerpt: “This was a horrific case. Hana , believed to be about 13, was found dead of hypothermia in her adopted family’s Sedro-Woolley backyard. Her malnourished body was covered in scratches and bruises.
Further justice may be found in a 2012 report to the state Legislature that highlighted Washington state’s lack of safeguards to protect adopted children from potentially abusive homes. The Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee’s recommendations included closer tracking of adoption agencies and adoptions, including those done privately. But there may be another factor in the girl’s death.
This New York Times piece links the couple’s actions, including forcing Hana to go without food and to spend long periods in a dark closet or outside, to the harsh disciplinary techniques proposed by Christian author Michael Pearl in “To Train Up a Child.” Pearl quotes the Biblical maxim, “spare the rod and spoil the child” but says that does not give parents license to severely beat or starve their kids to death. Nonetheless authorities have linked the book with the deaths of several children. I am disturbed by Pearl’s advice, including forcing kids to fast as a disciplinary measure and spanking children as young as six months old.”
[Seattle Times blog 8/21/13 by Lynn K. Varner]
August 20 afternoon testimony
“In an interview with a sheriff’s detective hours after her adopted daughter collapsed in the family’s backyard and succumbed to hypothermia and malnutrition, Carri Williams said she thought the girl was staying outside just to be rebellious.
“I thought she was just pretending that she couldn’t walk, because she’s done that before,” Carri Williams told Skagit County Sheriff’s Detective Ben Hagglund. “I just kind of ignored it.”
Jurors listened Tuesday morning to a recording of Hagglund’s 35-minute interview with Carri Williams, who along with her husband Larry Williams is charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana Williams’ May 2011 death.
They also are charged with first-degree assault of a child in the alleged abuse of their adopted son. They have each pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Larry Williams was still at work when Hana collapsed, so Hagglund interviewed only Carri Williams. She was cooperative and answered all the detective’s questions, he testified Tuesday morning.
In the interview, Carri Williams told Hagglund Hana’s behavior had “escalated” in the past six months or so, and she’d been lying, stealing and harming herself.
Hana was not being treated for any condition and had no diagnosed behavioral problems — “just rebellion,” Carri Williams said, acknowledging the family had never had the girl evaluated.
She later told another detective she was dealing with Hana’s issues by talking, reading and playing music to her, along with “other forms of correction.”
“At dinnertime, she didn’t want to eat her food,” Carri Williams told Hagglund of the night Hana died.
When Hana removed her clothing — a sign of hypothermia — Carri Williams said she thought the girl was just doing it to rebel because she had recently been dropping her pants in front of her brothers.
The girl’s nakedness was enough to get Carri Williams to tell her oldest sons, who she’d enlisted to help bring Hana inside, to “forget it,” she told Hagglund.
Later, when Hana was lying facedown on the patio and grass, Carri Williams still thought the girl was pretending, she said. But then another daughter pointed out Hana wasn’t moving.
“And the way she was laying, it didn’t look like it was pretend,” Carri Williams told Hagglund, describing later not being sure if she felt a pulse. “I said, ‘She killed herself. I think she’s dead.’”
Hagglund examined Hana’s body shortly after her death. His report does not note the thin appearance of her 5-foot, 80-pound frame.
Sheriff’s Office investigates
Another Skagit County Sheriff’s detective, Theresa Luvera, testified about interviewing members of the Williams family and helping search their home.
Luvera visited the Williams home the day after Hana died. She told Larry Williams about the marks discovered on Hana’s legs at the hospital and the man showed her the piece of plastic plumbing pipe the Williamses used to hit their children, she testified.
Larry and Carri Williams said Hana was the healthiest person in the family and never complained about being sick, Luvera testified.
A then-11-year-old Williams daughter told Luvera her adopted siblings might get hit with a switch 40 times a day, according to a transcript of the interview. Luvera ended that interview when the girl started crying.
“She was upset,” the detective said. “We don’t go to interview kids to make them upset.”
The Williams children were polite and appeared healthy, and their parents seemed proud of them, Luvera said.
A foster mom observes
First on the stand Tuesday morning was Trudy Wise, a foster mother with whom three biological Williams children lived for about a month after being removed from their parents’ home in July 2011. Wise attended church with the Williamses for a few months before Hana died.
Wise told deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula she noticed a “pecking order” among the children, in which the older ones were “domineering” over the younger ones, including Wise’s own two children.
The Williams children seemed happy and never argued, she said.
One hot day, Wise took the children swimming and saw a teenage Williams son take away a swimsuit Wise’s daughter had loaned the younger Williams girl, telling her, “You’re not allowed to go swimming” because he deemed the one-piece swimsuit too revealing. The girl submitted and sat out, Wise said.
Wise testified that the same boy, about 14 at the time, said of his deceased adopted sister: “Hana was fat so we had to take the food away, but she was just in so much rebellion that she didn’t listen.””
“Defense unsuccessfully subpoenas prosecutor
- One of Larry Williams’ attorneys, Rachel Forde, subpoenaed prosecutor Rich Weyrich on Monday evening as a witness in the case.In doing so, she asked that the prosecutor, like most other witnesses, be barred from the courtroom until he had testified.At issue is the disappearance of a man believed to be Hana Williams’ biological cousin, who prosecutors flew in from Ethiopia to testify that she was younger than 16 when she died — a requirement for the homicide-by-abuse charge to stick.The witness, Tenssay Kassaye Woldetsadeik, testified Aug. 9 but missed his return flight to Ethiopia two days later. His whereabouts are unknown.Weyrich and a Mount Vernon police officer took items from Woldetsadeik’s hotel room while investigating the man’s disappearance, and Weyrich had the items at home for three days before turning them over to police, Forde asserted.Woldetsadeik’s actions call into question his reason for testifying, she said. Not only did he overstay his visa, but he abandoned a family Biblewhich he testified held important family dates, including that of Hana’s birth.Leaving behind a family heirloom is suspicious and suggests the Bible could have been “something that was fabricated for this purpose (to get him into the country),” Forde said.Forde told Judge Susan Cook she intended to call Weyrich to the stand because she suspected he had an opportunity to tamper with evidence that had come up during Woldetsadeik’s testimony.“He put himself in a position to be a witness,” Forde said. “… There may be an innocent explanation, but I don’t know it.”Deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula asked Cook to quash the subpoena, arguing Weyrich had nothing material to offer.“(Larry Williams’ attorneys) want to throw a wrenchin the works,” Kaholokula said. “They want to make innuendos and slurs.”Carri Williams’ attorney Wes Richards said he didn’t see the relevance of making Weyrich testify.Cook agreed. She pointed out it would be easy to tell if key parts of the Bible had changed because photocopies of it were earlier admitted into evidence.She also noted Weyrich is an officer of the court and understands “his entire career and profession would be in jeopardy” if he mishandled evidence.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/20/13 by Gina Cole]
“Jurors heard Carri Williams blame her own daughter for dying during day 17 of the Skagit murder-and-abuse trial.
Williams spoke to detectives at the hospital just hours after Hana Williams froze and starved to death at the family home.
In the recorded 35-minute interview, Williams told the detective, “She started throwing herself around all over the place and just kind of ignored it.”
Williams immediately blamed the Ethiopian girl for her own death, claiming the teen had been disobedient for months. Hana wouldn’t brush her teeth and her hair was dirty, according to Williams.
“She refused to wash the shampoo out of her hair, so we shaved her head,” she said.
The adopted girl spent her last night outside the family’s gated home. Carri Williams said she told Hana to come inside but the girl refused.
Several of Larry and Carri Williams’ seven children testified Hana was being punished and told to exercise to staywarm. According to the children, Hana was hit with a switch by her mother and brothers for resting and finally collapsed.
“Half of her was lying on the grass and the other half of her was on the patio. And I honestly thought she was just pretending,” said Carri Williams.
She put a sheet over the girl’s 78-pound body, called her husband, then called 911.
“I said, ‘She killed herself. I think she’s dead,’” said Carri Williams.
The conservative Christian parents could face life in prison if convicted of killing Hana and abusing their adopted son, Immanuel. He testified the Ethiopian pair were beaten, fed frozen food and forced to sleep in closets as punishment for misbehaving.
People in the courtroom teared up, but a security guard who stayed with the Williams at the hospital said there were no tears that night.
“She was not emotional,” he said of Carri Williams.
After nearly three weeks of testimony, prosecutors will wrap up their case this week. “
[KIRO TV 8/30/13 by Lee Stoll]
Update 19/August 21
August 21 testimony
“The boy adopted by the Williams family ate ravenously when he first entered foster care, his foster mother testified Wednesday. He cried when he talked about the Williams’ home, she said.
Sheila Jackson, the boy’s foster mother since shortly after Hana Williams died of hypothermia and malnutrition in May 2011 in the Williams back yard, told Skagit County deputy prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula the boy “ate really fast and he ate a lot,” when he came to live with her.
“I would say it (was) like feeding six or seven soldiers for one child,” Jackson told the court in sign language through an interpreter.
Larry and Carri Williams, the boy’s former adoptive parents as well as Hana’s, are charged with first-degree assault of a child in the alleged abuse of the son and homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
She said after a few months at her home, the boy started to share things with her about his time at the Williams’ home and when he did so, he showed fear.
Jackson also told the court she noticed scratches and other marks that were in the process of healing on the boy’s back when he first came to her home, as well as white marks and new skin in places.
The boy’s appetite subsided after a year and he began eating more normally, Jackson told the court. In that first year with Jackson, she said the boy gained about 20 pounds.
Mount Vernon Police Detective Theresa Luvera was called to the stand to testify about the method she used to interview the adopted boy after Hana’s death, known casually as the Harborview Method, for it being taught at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde called attention to part of the guide book for the method where it says questions should be open and directed, and not include any information that hasn’t been introduced previously by the child.
Reading from the transcript of one interview with the adopted boy, Forde said Luvera used the word “angry” multiple times when he hadn’t used that specific word yet.
She also pointed out that the guide warns against others being present at interviews, and potentially becoming involved with the interview.
Forde pointed to the transcript of an October 2011 interview with the boy where his now-former teacher, Hope Star, was present as a support person but interjected several times.
Prosecutors have pointed out that Carri Williams interrupted her adopted son’s interview at one point to clarify his description of a scenario.
Luvera said Star did interject with a few words, but “not necessarily sentences.” The interjections, Luvera said, were for help clarifying words being translated from sign language, which made them different than Carri’s interjection.
Forde told the judge outside the presence of the jury that she thought the boy was highly suggestible, and she asserted various interviewers planted ideas in the boy’s head about what had transpired at the Williams home.
Forde also called attention to language in the guide about establishing that the child knows the difference between lying and telling the truth, and asked Luvera if she had gone over this in interviews with the adopted Williams boy.
She said she had.
Forde spent a large portion of examination of the boy one day asking if he knew what a lie was. She has asserted in court before that the boy is pretending not to understand certain words.
Kaholokula asked Jackson at length about the sign language she uses — both at home and outside of it — and the adopted Williams boy’s ability to speak sign language.
Jackson said he used “home signs” and primitive forms of sign language when he first came to her home, but began developing basic skills within the first few months.
Carri Williams’ attorney Laura Riquelme brought up Jackson’s lack of confidence in a deaf program the boy attends at his elementary school.
“Though this program is for deaf children, you don’t feel they’re actually teaching American Sign Language at this school, correct?” Riquelme asked.
“That school does not communicate with children in ASL, no matter what they say they do,” Jackson responded through an interpreter.
The defense has brought the boy’s testimony — vital to the prosecution’s case — into question based on issues of translating certain words like “spank” and “beat.”
Forde asked Jackson about behavioral problems the adopted boy had after biological Williams son there with him left her home. The boy apparently hit and bit his foster sister, one time beating her to the point her school called Child Protective Services to investigate.
Jackson confirmed for Forde that Family Preservation Services was called to her home to investigate the issues but she could not say if they were considering removing the boy or not.
“I never knew what they were planning to do,” she said. “I just went on with everyday life.”
He remained there.
Forde also asked if the counseling Jackson had been taking the boy to had made a difference in his problems. Jackson said she didn’t know what happened during the sessions, though the boy’s behavior has improved.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/21/13 by Daniel DeMay]
“On Day 18 of the Skagit murder and abuse trial, a foster mom said an abused boy was bone-thin when she took him in.
Larry and Carri Williams are accused of assaulting their adopted son and killing their adopted daughter.
Sheila Jackson, who is deaf, says she could barely feed Immanuel Williams enough food when the deaf boy came to live with her in 2011.
“He ate fast. He ate a lot. He ate more than I expected,” said Jackson.
CPS had removed the Ethiopian boy and seven other children from Larry and Carri Williams’ Sedro Woolley home.
The parents were charged with assaulting Immanuel and killing their adopted daughter Hana. She froze and starved to death in the back yard a few months earlier.
They could face life in prison if convicted.
Jackson said Immanuel was terrified to talk about the couple.
“He would cry,” she said.
Jackson said the boy was so thin, she could see his ribs. He gained 20 pounds in the first year. His body was covered in marks.
“They looked like scratches. They were not really that visible. They were starting to fade,” said Jackson.
Immanuel, now 12, testified the Williamses hit him and Hana with belts and switches.
He says they were fed frozen food and slept in closets as punishment for misbehaving.
The defense says Immanuel continued to misbehave in Jackson’s home. He hit and bit her daughter.
“Your daughter went to school looking so beat up that her teacher actually called CPS, right?” asked Larry Williams’ attorney, Rachel Forde.
“Yes,” said Jackson.
Trudy Wise has been a foster parent for 25 years and fostered three of the Williams children after their parents’ arrest.
She can’t talk about the case but says the transition is traumatic for every child.
“Each one comes with their own set of hurts and their own strengths and weaknesses,” said Wise.
Jackson says Immanuel is in counseling and his behavior is improving.”
[KIRO TV 8/21/13 by Lee Stoll]
Update 20/August 24
August 22 Testimony
“Another forensic dentist testified this morning that Hana Williams was likely at least 15 years old when she died.
Hana’s adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, are accused of abusing the girl to death. They are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter, along with first-degree assault of a child in connection with alleged abuse of their adopted son.
They have each pleaded not guilty.
Hana’s age has been a key issue in the case because the homicide-by-abuse charge applies only if she was younger than 16 when she died.
Various examinations of her body have not been able to definitively place Hana’s age on one side of 16 or the other.
A man believed to be Hana’s biological cousin testified she would have been about 13, which would be consistent with a birthdate estimate on Hana’s adoption records. But the man’s motives for testifying came into question after he failed to catch a plane back to Ethiopia and left behindin his hotel a family heirloom containing a note on Hana’s birth.
Dr. David Sweet, a forensic dentist from the University of British Columbia, testified Hana “could be 15 or slightly older,” based on his analysis of x-rays of her teeth. Hana’s second molars were completely formed, he said, and that typically happens at about age 15.
Questioned further, Sweet placed Hana’s age at 16.25 years, plus or minus a year and a half on each side. In other words, about 68 percent of people whose teeth are about as developed as Hana’s were are between 14.75 and 17.75 years old, he said.
Sweet was the first witness called by the defense. Prosecutors have not yet wrapped up their case, but Sweet was called out of order due to scheduling issues.”
Forensic dentist: Hana was at least 15
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/22/13 by Gina Cole]
“Digging up a dead girl’s body did not give anyone the answers they were looking for on day 19 of the Skagit murder and abuse trial.
Hana Williams starved and froze to death in 2011.
She lay buried for more than a year when officers, under a court order, exhumed her body and took her 5-foot, 78-pound body to the medical examiner’s office.
Doctors measured her bones and examined her teeth to determine how old she was when she died, facedown in the mud behind Larry and Carri Williams’ Sedro-Woolley home.
Age matters because the couple is charged with homicide by abuse. In a homicide by abuse charge, a victim must be a child, 16 years old or younger.
Adoption records say Hana was 13.
“‘I don’t believe she was 13,” said Dr. David Sweet, who examined Hana’s X-rays.
Her adult teeth were fully developed.
“I believe the person is 16.25 years old,” he testified.
Another dentist with the same information testified Hana was younger.
“My opinion is that she’s at least 15 years old,” said Dr. Gary Bell.
If the jury decides Hana is older than 16, the Williamses could still be convicted of manslaughter and of assaulting their adopted son, Immanuel Williams. Both charges carry the possibility of life in prison.
Immanuel says the Ethiopian kids were beaten, fed frozen food and punished with cold showers — discipline different from how the parents treated their seven biological children.
The Williamses say they were strict with all of the kids.
While science puts Hana’s age anywhere between 13 and 18 years old, her cousin said an entry made in the family Bible proves she was 13 years old.
“I knew the day she was born. My sisters also remember that day,” said Kassaye Woldetsidik, who testified earlier this month.
But Woldetsidik, who flew from Ethiopia to testify, disappeared two weeks ago.
He is suspected of using the trip to stay in the United States illegally, raising questions about anything he may have said to get here.
Hana’s remains were reburied in January .”
[KIRO TV 8/22/13 by Lee Stoll]
August 23 Testimony
“A neighbor of the Williams family broke down in tears during testimony Friday afternoon about what she witnessed on her last visit to the family’s home.
Kerina Crane met Carri and Larry Williams before they adopted two Ethiopian children. She said Friday through her own tears that Carri Williams was “bawling” when Kerina went to the Williams home “not long” after Carri’s adopted daughter Hana collapsed in their backyard and died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition.
Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s May 2011 death and with first-degree assault of a child for alleged abuse of their adopted son. They have each pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Crane was one of the first witnesses called by the defense. For scheduling reasons, prosecutors still have one witness left, set to testify Monday.
Crane testified that she never — in her almost weekly and often unannounced visits to the Williams home — saw Hana or the adopted son excluded from any activities and only once saw the boy disciplined by being placed in “time out.”
The boy testified earlier in the trial that he and Hana were excluded from many family celebrations, including holidays, and were disciplined more harshly and more frequently than the Williamses’ biological children. Several biological Williams children confirmed on the stand that their adopted siblings were punished more, but said it was because they disobeyed more often.
The defense also called Crane’s husband, who carpooled to work in Everett with Larry Williams for much of 2009.
Mike Crane’s testimony was similar to his wife’s, although he said he had significantly less contact with the Williams family.
Defense witness Audrey Anderson, a church friend of the Williamses, testified that Larry Williams was “a caring daddy” who sat with his adopted son in church on Sundays.
Anderson said neither child was excluded during her observations at church or her three visits to the Williams home before Hana died.
None of the three witnesses Friday afternoon said they saw anything unusual in the children’s physiques leading up to Hana’s death.
Friday morning, a forensic anthropologist testified Hana was probably about 15 when she died, but could have been any age between 14 and 17. The girl’s age is key in the case because the homicide-by-abuse charge applies only if she was younger than 16.
Examinations of Hana’s body have not pinpointed her age. Instead, expert witnesses involved in those exams have offered ranges, all of which have spanned both sides of age 16.
A man believed to be Hana’s biological cousin testified she would have been about 13, which is consistent with a birthdate estimate on Hana’s adoption records. But the man’s motives for testifying came into question after he failed to catch a plane back to Ethiopia and left behind in his hotel a family heirloom containing a note on Hana’s birth.
Katherine Taylor, a forensic anthropologist who works in the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, analyzed X-rays of the girl’s bones after her body was exhumed in January. She explained to the jury Friday how various bones and growth plates in Hana’s body give clues about her age.
Two forensic dentists, one testifying for the defense and one for the prosecution, have said Hana was likely at least 15 when she died. One gave a range of 13 to 18; the other said he was confident she was between 14.75 and 17.75 years old.
Defense attorneys plan to call more witnesses next week. The trial is expected to last through the second week of September.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/24/13 by Gina Cole and Daniel DeMay]
Update 21/August 27
August 26 information
“The defense blasted prosecutors for buying clothes and food for Hana Williams’ cousin. Without the cousin’s testimony, it’s almost impossible for the state to prove an element of their case.
It’s been three weeks since Kassaye Woldetsidik was on the stand talking about his cousin, Hana.
“We were close,” he said.
Today, jurors were told to forget everything he said.
“It is stricken from the record,” said Judge Susan K. Cook.
The jury was not told Woldetsidik missed his flight back to Ethiopia, disappeared and is accused of staying in the U.S. illegally.
They don’t know county prosecutor Rich Weyrich bought him jeans, shoes, sent him to the Seattle Center and spent about $100 on food.
“We can’t send our witnesses on field trips to Seattle with a paid chauffeur,” said Larry Williams’ attorney, Cassie Trueblood.
Weyrich’s co-counsel says the money was spent after Woldetsidik testified.
“It was not provided as inducement to testify,” said prosecutor Rosemary Kaholakula.”
“Homicide by abuse can only be charged if a victim is a child 16 or younger.
Doctors who tested Hana’s teeth and bones say she was anywhere between 13 and 18 years old.
Woldetsidik testified a family Bible entry recording her birth proves she was 13.
Judge Cook says it’s impossible to know if that testimony was influenced by gifts.
“I think that it was inappropriate,” said Cook.
The defense also asked for the homicide by abuse charge to be dismissed but the judge said no. If jurors dismiss it in deliberations, the Williams couple could still face life in prison on the other charges.”"
[KIRO TV 8/26/13 by Lee Stoll]
“Prosecutors flew Woldetsadeik in from Ethiopia to testify, but he failed to catch his flight home and his whereabouts remain unknown. This, and the fact he left behind the family Bible, brought into question his motive for taking the stand.
Defense attorneys then learned Prosecutor Rich Weyrich had given Woldetsadeik clothes and shoes after he testified and that someone from the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office went with Woldetsadeik to Seattle to tour the city.
All this happened after the man testified, and he did not know before taking the stand that he would receive anything afterward, deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula told the judge. Weyrich has submitted a declaration under oath saying the same.
“This is not a situation where money was provided for testimony,” Kaholokula said, adding she was “kind of appalled” that defense attorneys were “flinging around accusations.” The chaperone on the Seattle trip was intended to keep Woldetsadeik insulated from information about the case, she said.
Cassie Trueblood, an attorney for Larry Williams, cited various rules and laws forbidding attorneys from giving gifts to witnesses, regardless of what the gift was. She asked Cook to dismiss the case against her client because Weyrich’s failure to tell the defense about the gifts violated Williams’ right to a fair trial.
Cook opted for less severe relief.
“I think it was inappropriate, and for that reason, I am striking this testimony,” she said.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/27/13 by Gina Cole]
Update 22/August 27
August 27 testimony
Larry throws Carri under the bus.
“Larry Williams said this morning that he felt “responsible” and “ashamed” after five weeks of hearing people testify about allegations he and his wife abused their adopted children.”
“Larry Williams said he regrets not intervening.
“I’m the dad. My daughter died,” he said. “… Possibly I could have done something to stop it, but I didn’t.”
This morning was the first time either defendant took the stand. Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde walked him through his childhood, moving around with his parents, his time in the Air Force and meeting his future wife at church.
“I thought, ‘This girl has really got something. She’s got a heart for others,’” he said with a smile, recalling his first conversation with Carri, when he learned she was training to be a sign-language interpreter.
The couple had seven biological children before adopting two more from Ethiopia. Their plan was to just adopt their son because he is deaf, but Hana caught their eye on a DVD the adoption agency sent them.
“When we saw the other children, we saw Hana and our heart went out to her,” he said.
As the two settled into the Williams home and behavior problems emerged, the Williamses employed the same descipline tactic they used on their other children: spanking with a piece of plastic plumbing line they called a switch.
Larry Williams said he usually spanked his adopted son on his bottom, and only once spanked him on his feet, at Carri Williams’ suggestion.
“I couldn’t do it again,” he said. “Just the one time, because I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
On the first day of testimony a month ago, the adopted boy told the jury about repeated beatings on the bottoms of his feet administered by his parents and older siblings. A military torture expert who testified later counted that experience toward his conclusion the adopted Williams children were tortured.
The boy also has testified Larry Williams hit him on his head with a wooden implement so hard that he bled. Larry Williams denied that today, saying he never spanked the boy on his head — just used the switch on his head lightly to get his attention.
Larry Williams admitted to using a belt on the boy two or three times, but said he stopped after that because he thought the boy was too young for that punishment. He said he never used the buckle end, instead folding the belt in half with the ends in his hands.
Larry Williams’ testimony continues this afternoon.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/27/13 by Gina Cole]
Tweets from Gina Cole on 8/27/13
- “prosecutors needed to interview oldest Williams son, Joshua, before defense calls him to the stand.”
- “Joshua Williams testified briefly about hearing his parents argue. Now defense calls Larry Williams”
- “Larry Williams: Spanking “was for teaching, not damaging or hurting.”"
- “Defense expert witness who was disclosed late not allowed to testify. He would’ve been refuting testimony that’s now stricken”
- “Larry back on stand. Now talking about portable toilet they got for Hana to use”
- “It was Carri’s idea to get the portable toilet for Hana, Larry says”
- “Larry: Hana told me around the end of 2010 that she was 16. “
- “Larry filled out a form in Oct 2010 to get Hana’s birth certificate changed to 1994 birth year because she’d said she was 16″
- “On to the closet. Larry says it was Carri’s idea to put Hana there. “
- “Larry: My reaction to the closet idea at first was “no,” but I went along with it.”
- “Larry: Carri and I argued after I said we needed to try different disciplinary tactics, but things didn’t change”
- “Larry says the night Hana died is the first time he’d seen her without clothes and noticed how thin she was”
- “Larry: After I found out Hana had collapsed outside, I told Carri to call 911 and raced home, screaming “noooo!” and praying.”
- “Carri Williams’ attorneys now questioning Larry Williams.”
- “Larry: I was aware the adopted children sometimes ate cold leftovers and frozen veggies outside on patio”
- “Larry: I thought portable toilet would be a temporary solution.”
- “Larry says he knew about adopted children sleeping in shower room, and that sometimes he locked Hana in the closet”
- “Packed courtroom to watch Prosecutor Rich Weyrich cross-examine Larry Williams”
- “Larry says he didn’t approve of setting up an outside hose shower for Hana, but says he also didn’t stop it or take it down.”
- “Larry says Hana never slept in the closet, was in there an hour or two at a time”
- “Larry Williams says he noticed Hana losing weight but didn’t notice she’d lost 30 pounds before she died”
- “Larry: I don’t remember why the adopted children weren’t allowed to participate in the last Christmas Hana was alive”
- “Larry: I don’t remember if adopted boy missed out on cake at a birthday”
- “Larry: When adopted children were in the home, I don’t remember if I used the belt on the biological children”
- “Larry: biological children never had to sleep in barn or shower room as a punishment.”
- “Larry: “Boot camp” (extra chores) is something Carri started for the three oldest boys”
- “Larry: I called home from work “when I could.”"
- ” Cross-examination of Larry Williams not finished.”
Update 23/August 29
More August 27 testimony-biological son Joshua and adoptive father Larry Williams
“Larry Williams tried to explain to the court how he disciplined Hana Williams and her brother. His attorneys seemed to be shifting the blame to Williams’ wife instead.
The first question his attorney asked him was how he was feeling.
“Responsible,” said Williams, after a long pause. “Ashamed.”
The father of nine said he had a lot of regret for not intervening sooner and preventing what happened to Hana.
“Possibly I could have done something to stop it. And I didn’t,” said Williams.
Williams remembered happier times, like the day he picked up his two adopted children at the airport when they flew in from Ethiopia.
“They recognized us right away, and they’re pointing and waving, we’re waving,” said Williams, who said Hana’s brother jumped into his arms.
But he said discipline issues developed with both Hana and her younger brother.
Hana had severe hygiene issues, and her brother wet his pants intentionally, according to Williams.
Williams admitted to spanking them with a switch and a belt, but said his wife Carri came up with harsher disciplines he disagreed with.
“Use of the closet needed to stop, outside showers needed to stop, porta-potty needed to stop,” he told the court.
Carri Williams became emotional when her husband spoke of getting an urgent call from her, and rushing home from work in May of 2011 to find Hana dead.
“Hana was naked on the floor,” he said. “She looked thin. I had never seen her without her clothes on before. And I was struck by that.”
A police investigation concluded Hana had been beaten repeatedly, but the cause of death was hypothermia brought on by malnutrition. She died after being left in the backyard of the Williams’ home in Sedro Woolley.
Williams testified Hana told him she was 16, three years older than her official age through the adoption agency. In court, his attorney showed documentation that Williams attempted to correct the error legally months before Hana died.
Joshua, the Williams’ oldest biological son, testified that arguments between his mother and father increased in the months before Hana died. He said the head of household seemed to shift to his mother.
“Looking back, I think the balance of the authority seemed to break down a little bit,” Joshua said.”
[King 5 8/27/13]
“As lawyers on both sides enumerated various discipline tactics used on Hana — shaving her head, having her shower with a hose outside, making her use a portable toilet instead of the family bathroom, locking her in a closet — Larry Williams often said they were his wife’s ideas, or that he didn’t approve but didn’t put a stop to them.
“She called me into the nursery and she was cleaning out the closet, and she said that she had an idea about how to help Hana,” he said. “My first reaction was, ‘No.’”
But he went along with it because his wife had done a good job raising their other children, he said.
Previous witnesses have testified that Hana slept in the closet and was sometimes in there as long as 24 hours. Larry Williams denied that, saying she was there “an hour or two” at a time and that he would take her out when he got home from work.
He later testified he did not know, when he came home, what time the girl had gone into the closet.
Other punishments, such as spankings, cold showers for pants-wetting, having the adopted children eat outside or serving them cold leftovers or frozen food, Larry Williams said he participated in but did not know how much they happened when he wasn’t around.”
“In the final six months of her life, Hana ate breakfast — the one meal Larry Williams was home for on weekdays — outside “more often than not,” he testified. She would be sent there for “disagreeable behavior,” he said.
The oldest biological Williams son, Joshua, testified Tuesday that he heard his parents argue about their discipline of the adopted children, and that the frequency and severity of that discipline increased. Joshua was granted immunity for his testimony.
At the start of Larry Williams’ testimony, defense attorney Rachel Forde walked her client through his childhood and moving around with his missionary parents. A brief mention of his two years in Jamaica starting at age 6 elicited the second mention of race in more than four weeks of testimony.
“I never had an issue with color, with black people, race,” Larry Williams said of what that time in his life taught him. “I never thought anything of it.””
“On Tuesday, Larry Williams testified he stopped spanking his adopted children altogether in early 2011 because he wanted to try a different discipline strategy. He argued with his wife about this, but nothing changed, he said.
“The use of the closet needed to stop. The outside showers needed to stop. The port-a-potty needed to stop. The spanking needed to stop,” he said. “It’s clear it wasn’t working, what we were doing.””
[Skagit Valley Herald 8/27/13 by Gina Cole]
August 28 testimony-adoptive mother Carri Williams
“The mother of nine children took the stand in her own defense Wednesday and said she begged her adopted daughter Hana to come inside the night she died. “She began throwing herself down,” said Carri.
Carri said Hana bumped her head and scraped her knees deeply enough to bleed but thought the girl was just acting out. She later learned Hana was suffering hypothermia and starvation. “I decided that I couldn’t watch it anymore, so I went inside,” said Carri. She sent her three sons outside to hit Hana for refusing to come in. The girl finally collapsed face down, naked in the mud. Carri covered her dying daughter’s body with sheet — worried about what the other children would see. “Modesty is important in our family,” she said. Hana was dead a few minutes later.
Carri and her husband, Larry, could face life in prison if convicted of killing Hana and assaulting their adopted son Immanuel.
The 12-year-old boy said he was hit until he bled and that the Ethiopian pair was locked in closets and fed frozen food. Two experts called it torture. Carri said the parents only gave light spanks and time-outs. “Who determined what these possible consequences would be?” asked Carri’s attorney, Wes Richards. “Larry and I did,” said Carri.
The former Boeing worker and stay-at-home mom used two days of testimony to attack each other. Larry said it was Carri’s idea for Hana to shower outside with a garden hose. Carri said Larry set the spot up. She said Larry bought the port-a-potty Hana was forced to use because she had hepatitis B and left the house bathroom dirty. “It’s not appropriate acceptable behavior socially,” said Carri.
Carri admitted the port-a-potty and other punishments were wrong. She said she wishes she could trade places with Hana in the ground.”
[KIRO TV 8/28/13]
Carri “Williams said her daughter, Hana, repeatedly refused to come in the house that day. Hana had been outside for hours when she started acting irrationally.
“She came to the door and she just stood there,” said Williams. She said her daughter starting throwing herself violently to the ground.
“A couple of times when she threw herself hitting her head,” Williams told the courtroom. “I decided I couldn’t watch anymore.”
Williams admitted to sending her sons outside to swat Hana on the rear with a switch to get her to come in. But she still refused.
Eventually the teenager collapsed outside the home. By the time her family brought her inside, she had died.
Carri Williams’ mother testified how Hana and her brother had become rebellious in the few years since the family adopted them.
“I thought it was so odd that he was so violent,” Charlotte Miller, Carri’s mother, said of Hana’s younger brother, who they also adopted from Ethiopia. “He was kicking, screaming and punching.”
None of them had witnessed any abuse.
Williams’ father, a former police officer, said he if he had, he would have done the right thing.
“Bound by law, I would have reported it,” said George Miller.”
Adoptive mother of starved girl takes stand in own trial
[KING 5 8/28/13 by Elisha Hahn]
Reporter Gina Cole’s tweets on August 28 https://twitter.com/Gina_SVH :
- Larry: “Larry says he stopped spanking the adopted children in early 2011, but other punishments (e.g. locking in closet) didn’t stop “
- Larry: “Prosecutor lists various discipline tactics, asks whose idea they were. Larry says “Carri” or “I don’t remember” to all”
- “Carri’s sister testifies she saw “long” scars “like streaks” on adopted nephew’s back. Others have said they were circular. “
- “Carri’s mother on stand now. She blew up at her daughter’s attorney when stopped after an objection, slamming her hands down”
- “Carri’s mother describes her adopted grandson as violent and aggressive”
- “Carri’s mother: When I visited, adopted children always ate same food as rest of family and always took two or three helpings “
- “Carri Williams just took the stand. She says she loves her husband very much”
- “Shown 2011 photos of scars and marks on adopted son’s back, Carri Williams says that’s how he looked when he arrived in 2008.”
- “Carri says it was her husband’s idea to hose off adopted boy and have him sleep in shower room. Ditto Hana sleeping in barn”
- “Carri: Larry set up pole for Hana to shower outside w/ hose & installed lock on closet door when Hana started sleeping there.”
- “Carri: the longest Hana was in the closet at once, including nighttime, was probably 10 hours”
- “Carri: Hana started losing weight gradually about nine months before she died, but I wasn’t concerned about it”
- “Carri Williams: the night Hana died, “she was acting like she couldn’t eat her dinner.”"
- “Prosecutors objected to Carri’s comment about dinner because she doesn’t know whether Hana was pretending. Judge struck it”
- “Carri: Hana had thrown herself to ground a few times before, so “I thought she was doing it on purpose” the night she died.”
- “Carri: Hana had refused to come inside in the past, but “she always eventually came in.”"
- “Carri: I saw no signs Hana was cold the night she died; no shivering, no goosebumps”
- “Carri has been sniffling, wiping eyes, especially while talking about Hana’s death. Can’t see tears from where I’m sitting”
- “Carri: I didn’t think frozen food, showers outside, portable toilet, sleeping in closet, spankings would lead to Hana’s death “
- ” Carri’s sister said “You could tell (Carri and Larry) were “madly, madly in love.”"
“Dr. Jordan Haber, a New York-based radiologist called to the stand by Carri Williams’ lawyers, said Hana was probably between 15 and 17.Haber looked at x-rays of Hana’s hand, wrist and hips. Her hands and wrists look like those of a 15-year-old, while her hips indicate she could have been 16, he said.“I couldn’t exclude 16,” he told Rachel Forde, one of Larry Williams’ lawyers. “I would feel uncomfortable saying she’s 16. I feel comfortable saying she’s 15 or older.”
Carri Williams’ lawyer, Wes Richards, gave Haber the girl’s death date and the date she was x-rayed, and told her she “was born and raised in Ethiopia.” He said he had no other information about the case when he studied her bones.
“I had no interest in putting the patient at any one particular age,” he said.
Malnutrition can stunt bone growth, making bones look younger than they are, Haber said.”
“Haber also examined x-rays of the boy, placing his age at about 11 years. He must have been younger than 13 for the charge of first-degree assault of a child to apply. Lawyers on both sides have spent much less time debating the boy’s age than debating Hana’s.Haber said he saw no broken or fractured bones in either child.”
- “Radiologist: Comparing Hana’s wrist to a bone age atlas, “It’s my opinion that she came closest to 15 years.”"
- “Judge puts the kibosh on a line of hypothetical questioning about effect of calcium deficiency on Hana’s bone development. “
- “Prosecutor Rich Weyrich sparred for half an hour with radiologist who refused to testify about a zoomed-in x-ray image”
- “Radiologist says he cannot evaluate a blown-up image because the standards his profession uses don’t include blown-up images”
- “Carri: If Larry had told me “You are not to treat Hana this way,” I would have stopped”
- “Carri: Adoption agency told us they made up Hana’s birth year. “
- “Carri: I questioned Hana’s age from when she first arrived in the United States”
“Thursday’s testimony began with Dr. Jordan Haber, an expert radiologist from New York, who evaluated Hana’s’ X-rays and determined her true age range, which he determined to be between 15-17 years old.
This is significant because a victim must be younger than 16 years old for a conviction of homicide by abuse.”Hana was going through the process of becoming a young adult,” Dr. Haber said. “Her epiphyses were beginning to fuse.”
The victim’s age became part of the focus during cross-examination, because original reports, along with the Williams, assumed Hana was 13 years old.
Dr. Haber came up with the age determination after he compared Hana’s hand and wrist X-rays to bone atlases, the standard radiologists use to compare maturation of bones.
“It’s my opinion that she came closest to 15 years,” Dr. Haber said.
One inconsistency the doctor found was in the hip area, but not enough to impact his overall opinion.
“Hana’s funny bone only partially fused, the age of the fusion according to the standard atlas was between 13 and 15 years,” Dr. Haber said. “I would have expected her fuse to be consistent with the overwhelming findings of a bone age of 15-17 years.”
Carri Williams took the stand Wednesday, and continued Thursday, detailing Hana’s punishment, living conditions, and adoption process. She described how the young girl was not given meals as punishment, and detailed the final moments before she found the child’s lifeless body in her backyard.
The day Hana died, prosecutors say she was banished to the back yard. It was raining hard, and the family found her unconscious in the mud a short time later.
“My daughter was completely naked, and just her shoulders and head were on the patio face down,” Williams said. “Her face was completely flat in the mole hill.”
Larry Williams took the stand for most of Tuesday, describing discipline techniques the family used.
When asked by an attorney what he felt most responsible about, Larry Williams replied: “I’m the dad… my daughter died… possibly I could have done something to stop it. And I didn’t.”
Hana had been adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 as a diseased little girl to begin a new life with her new parents in America.
Carri and Larry Williams have other biological children, who prosecutors say did not suffer the same abuse as the two adopted kids.
The trial will continue in Mount Vernon Friday, with Carri Williams continuing her testimony”
“Larry Williams testified earlier this week that many of their discipline tactics, including locking Hana in a closet and making her shower outside with a hose, were his wife’s ideas.
Carri confirmed that in her testimony, but said her husband agreed to the methods, participated in them and contributed ideas of his own.
The adopted children, unlike their seven siblings, were fed frozen food and wet sandwiches, according to testimony. Besides the closet, Hana was sent to sleep in a locked shower room and, before that, a barn behind the house.
Carri Williams said she believes in biblical gender roles that men are the head of their households, and women are their helpers. Her husband never demanded the punishments end, she said.
Spanking was a common disciplinary tool in the Williams home, but Larry Williams testified he stopped spanking the two adopted children a few months before Hana died. He said he did not remember whether he told his wife to do the same, and that their other punishments continued after that.
When the Williamses adopted the two Ethiopian children, they filled out a form in which one question asked them to describe their parenting style and philosophy. Their answer to that question did not mention corporal punishment.
Carri Williams said she had mentioned spanking the children “from time to time” somewhere else in the adoption documents.”"
“The orphanage and adoption agency had said Hana was born in 1997, so the Williamses went with that. But they had their doubts, Carri Williams said.
“The adoption agency said it was a year that they made up,” she said.
Larry and Carri Williams have both said they thought Hana was older than they were told she was. In October 2010, Larry Williams filled out a form to have her birth year changed to 1994 — making her 16, not 13 — but it had not been approved by the time she died.
A woman in a knitting group Carri Williams sometimes attended testified Carri had said she would kick out the “rebellious” Hana when she turned 18.
Deputy prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula brought up that comment in court Thursday.
“By claiming she was 16, you were that much closer to getting rid of her, right?” Kaholokula said.
“No,” Carri Williams said, frowning. “I did not want to get rid of my daughter.””
“Carri Williams testified Friday morning that she thinks her adopted daughter Hana Williams was at fault for her own death.“I believe that she unintentionally killed herself,” Carri Williams said.
Friday was the final day of witness testimony in the trial. Court reconvenes Wednesday, when Superior Court Judge Susan Cook will instruct the jury on the law and lawyers will give closing arguments before jurors can start to deliberate.
During cross-examination Friday, Carri Williams at times accused deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula of mischaracterizing what happened in the Williams home and once called her questioning rude.
Shown a family photo and asked to identify its contents for evidence, Carri Williams said: “I recognize that as being all my beautiful children that you ripped apart.”
“Someone ripped them apart,” Kaholokula said.
Without pausing, Carri Williams responded: “You did.”
Several Williams family members, including Carri, have testified that Hana was polite and cooperative when she first arrived at the home but became rebellious more than a year later. Carri Williams said this wasn’t because Hana’s personality changed, but because she was starting to show her true colors.
The Williamses sought no help from the adoption agency.
“It wasn’t necessary,” Carri Williams said.
She said she thought Hana was healthy, despite drastic weight loss that left the teenage girl, whose exact age is in question, at about 80 pounds. Hana lost 30 pounds in the year before she died, according to her medical records.
The adopted son lost weight, too. The boy weighed 53 pounds when he arrived in the U.S. in 2008, gained some weight but then dropped to 50 pounds by 2010, medical records show. He grew 2 inches taller in that time.
Hana’s autopsy photos show her ribs and collarbone jutting out. Carri Williams confirmed Hana looked thin in those photos, but said she had not seen that before because she rarely saw her daughter without the modest clothes every Williams family member wore.
“She looked totally different from the minute she was alive to the minute she was dead,” Carri Williams said. “… I never had any concerns about the health of my daughter.”
Carri Williams said when she first saw Hana lying face-down in the dirt that May night, she thought she was pretending until she rolled her over.
Hana had removed her clothes — a sign of hypothermia that Carri Williams said she didn’t recognize. When she and her then-12-year-old daughter couldn’t carry Hana, Carri Williams put a sheet over the girl before asking her oldest son to help.
Modesty wasn’t the only reason for the sheet, she said. “Her care was important to me, just as much as my son seeing her naked,” she said.
Hana had not eaten her dinner, which that night was cold leftover spaghetti, Carri Williams said. That was unusual because Hana usually ate “every last bite” of her meals, she said.
But other events of the evening weren’t unusual, Carri Williams said.
Hana had been stumbling around the property, throwing herself to the ground, bloodying her hands and knees and hitting her head on the cement patio. Carri Williams testified she thought Hana was doing it on purpose because she had “acted like she couldn’t walk” before.
“I couldn’t stand to see her do that to herself,” Carri Williams said, so she went inside and checked on Hana every five to 10 minutes from a door or window, imploring her to come in the house.
At no point did she call a doctor, she said, explaining it did not occur to her there might be a problem because this “was not new behavior” for Hana.
“I did the best I could with what I knew,” she said.”"
- “Carri: “We don’t deprive our children of any food.”
- “Carri: Larry cut Hana’s hair shorter than I would’ve; I gave her bandannas to wear”
- “Carri: Larry and I had discussions and came to agreements about what to do about adopted children’s care”
- “Oldest Williams son returning to Army station in South Korea tomorrow, will be allowed to have contact with his parents today”
- “Carri & oldest son exchanged smiles when judge said there’ll be “no prohibition from the court” on their having contact today “
- “Lawyers still have to do closing arguments Wednesday. No court Monday or Tuesday.”
Light of Day Stories blog adds the following:
- “Today’s testimony began with Dr. Kathleen Taylor, a forensic anthropologist, who had previously provided testimony about Hana’s age, based on Dr. Taylor’s examination of Hana’s x-rays. She was called by the prosecution largely in response to yesterday’s testimony by defense witness Dr. Jordan Haber. Dr. Taylor estimated Hana’s age as between 13 and 17. She magnified the x-rays to see the details of the bones, the trochanter, and the epiphysis. “Magnifying doesn’t alter the image,” she said, in contrast to Dr. Haber’s position, which was that magnifying the images is not the way radiologists determine bone age. Why would you magnify an x-ray, asked the prosecutor. “To see in better detail what you’re looking at,” said Dr. Taylor.Ms. Trueblood, the defense attorney, noted that Dr. Taylor is a Ph.D., and not a medical doctor nor a radiologist. There was brief discussion about the books that Taylor and Haber had consulted for their estimations.”
- “The outdoor shower was not, Carri said, called an outdoor shower. It was a piece of wood over which the garden hose could be placed. Larry dug the hole for the post. (Larry testified he’d had nothing to do with it.) Hana took quick showers, Carri noted: “4 minutes.” Was the water cold outside? “Yes.””
- “About not going to the doctor after 2009: “Hana was the healthiest of my children,” said Carri. There was no need to go to a doctor.”
- “About Immanuel’s behavioral problems: Carri said Immanuel failed to say thank you “properly” at the table, didn’t respond to stomping that was meant to get his attention, and changed a correct math answer to a wrong one. Of his wetting himself, she said he did it on purpose: he told her that. She didn’t take him to a doctor because it wasn’t a medical problem.”
- “About Hana’s behavioral problems: She lied and stole. She didn’t steal just any food, Carri said. She stole junk food: sweets. She also wrote capital letters in the middle of words, and didn’t stand or sit exactly where she was told.”
- “Hana was locked in the shower room and other places to keep her from stealing junk food, which Carri said she was “hoarding and gorging.”
Parents on trial in adopted girl’s death. Prosecutor: Carri Williams treated Hana like a dog/ [KIRO TV 8/30/13 by Lee Stoll] says”
Prosecutors showed Carri photos of Hana in the three years between her adoption and her death. Her body clearly changed as her full face disappeared and her bones began to show. “My daughter was not thin,” insisted Williams, even when Hana’s emaciated, 5-foot frame weighed just 78 pounds.
“What you’re saying is very rude,” snapped Williams during a confrontation with prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula. “Rudeness would be punished in your house as well, right? You feel it’s important not to be rude,” asked Kaholokula. “Deliberate rudeness, yes,” said Williams. The bitter back and forth continued as Williams defended her actions the night Hana died face-down behind the family’s Sedro-Woolley home. “I did the best I could with what I knew,” said Williams.
Williams admits Hana spent her last hours outside on a cold, rainy night in shorts and a T-shirt. Carri sent her three sons outside to hit the girl for refusing to come in. Hana was throwing herself on the ground, bleeding from the head and knees, unable to eat. Carri claimed she was pretending. “Did it occur to you at some point that there might be a problem?” asked Kaholokula. “No I did not. It was not new behavior for her,” said Williams.
Carri said Hana was constantly disobedient and unsanitary. She deserved to use a port-a-potty, shower with a garden hose and sleep in the barn.
Hana’s adopted brother Immanuel says the Ethiopian pair were beaten and fed frozen food — punishments Larry and Carri never gave their own seven children.
The couple could face life in prison.
After a month of horrific testimony, Carri shocked many in the court, saying she still believes Hana caused her own death. “I do not believe she intentionally killed herself but I believe, yes,” said Williams. “You think she did this to herself?” asked Kaholokula. “I believe that, yes,” said Williams.
Court is in recess for the holiday weekend. Closing arguments are set for Wednesday.”
Update 25/September 4, 2013
The Under Much Grace blogger who discusses spiritual abusive tactics like those of Michael Pearl has an excellent post on Hana’s case. See that here.
September 4 Trial Information
The judge gave the jury instructions before the Prosecution had closing arguments. Larry’s lawyer also completed his closing arguments.OnThursday, Carri’s lawyer will give closing arguments and the prosecution will have a rebuttal.
Skagit Valley Herald reporter Gina Cole gives the most information in her tweets, excerpted below:
Jury Instruction tweets
- “Judge tells jury to remember not to consider evidence that has been stricken from the record. “
- “Judge instructs jury: the lawyers’ statements are not evidence.”
- “Judge instructs jurors not to base decisions “on sympathy, prejudice or personal preference.”"
- “Reasonable doubt can arise either from evidence or a lack of evidence, judge instructs jury.”
- “Judge reminds jurors they’re not obligated to accept expert witnesses’ opinions and can evaluate their credibility.”
- “Judge reminds jury verdict on one count or defendant doesn’t mean they must reach same verdict for all charges or defendants.”
- “Judge defining “accomplice” for jury.”
- “To convict of manslaughter 1, Williamses must have acted recklessly and that reckless behavior must have caused Hana’s death.”
- “If reasonable doubt exists as to first-degree manslaughter, jury can decide to convict of second-degree manslaughter. “
- “Judge defines “substantial bodily harm” as temporary but substantial disfigurement, fracture or loss of function.”
- “Physical discipline of a child is lawful in WA when it’s reasonable & moderate and inflicted to correct or restrain the child”
- “Physical discipline of a child must not cause bodily harm greater than transient pain, marks. “
- “If jurors can’t agree on verdict for assault of child 1, they can consider lesser charges: assault of child 2 or assault 4.”
- “Jurors are not to consider punishments that could result from their decision, except insomuch as it may make them careful.”
- “Judge reminds jury the burden of proving charges is on the state & defendants don’t have burden of proving reasonable doubt.”
- “Jury can consider child’s age, size and condition, and location of injury, when deciding if force was reasonable or moderate.”
- “In closing argument, prosecutor tells jurors to look at circumstantial evidence that Hana was younger than 16 when she died.”
- “Prosecutor: Hana weighed 76.5 pounds when she arrived from Ethiopia, 78 pounds when she died about three years later”
- “Even if Hana was faking, “what could better define extreme indifference” than watching daughter hurt herself?”
- “Defense moves for mistrial based on prosecutor commenting on evidence and using un-admitted evidence during closing arguments “
- “Motion for mistrial is denied. Judge instructed jury at the time to disregard prosecutor’s comments. “
- “Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde starts closing argument by acting out a monologue AS her client driving home from work”
- “Defense lawyer to jury: “You are not here to judge whether or not Larry Williams was a good parent.”"
- “Defense lawyer tells jurors to consider whether Larry Williams caused Hana’s hypothermia, malnutrition or stomach bacteria”
- “Larry Williams’ lawyer tells jurors they must consider whether Hana had an eating disorder or ate poisonous plants. ” WTF?
- “Larry’s lawyer: “The evidence is overwhelming that Carri Williams designed, planned and implemented this entire program.” “
- “Larry’s lawyer tells the jury the adopted Williams boy is a self-professed liar and that goes toward his credibility”
Closing arguments under way in Williams case [Skagit Valley Herald 9/4/13 by Gina Cole] adds: Prosecutor “Weyrich made his closing argument Wednesday morning, reminding jurors that the Williamses locked Hana in a closet, made her use a portable toilet and shower with a hose outside, fed her cold or frozen food and hit her with a belt, glue stick or piece of plumbing line.
Witnesses throughout the trial have recounted these punishments the adopted Williams children got, but few could recall why they got them, Weyrich said.
Weyrich asked the jury to weigh the credibility of various witnesses, including the Williamses themselves, who he said seemed to remember the answers to their own lawyers’ questions but not to prosecutors’.
Larry Williams testified he didn’t notice Hana had lost 30 pounds until he saw her naked, unconscious body the night she died. Carri Williams testified she thought Hana, who weighed about the same amount the night she died as when she first arrived from Ethiopia three years before, was healthy.
Hana was “intentionally starved” by people who said they didn’t realize she was wasting away, Weyrich argued.”
Update 26/September 5, 2013
September 4 Closing Arguments
“Tears filled a Skagit County courtroom Wednesday as prosecutors described a so-called “house of horrors” where young Hana Williams died. Hana’s adoptive parents are accused of starving and beating her, and leaving her outside in the cold to die.
Seven weeks of testimony boiled down to nearly 2 1/2 hours of closing argument from prosecutor Rich Weyrich, who insists Larry and Carri Williams are guilty of homicide by abuse
“They both played an integral part in this house of horrors,” Weyrich told the court.
Weyrich summed up in seconds Hana’s death and the alleged abuse of her deaf brother Immanuel.
“They tortured and starved her until she passed away, and they tortured and starved Immanuel Williams,” Weyrich said.
Weyrich told the jury Hana weighed 76 pounds in 2008 when adopted from Ethiopia. She was up to 108 pounds in 2009, but at her death in 2011, she weighed only 78 pounds.
He showed showed jurors a tiny closet he alleges Hana was forced to live in, and reviewed Hana’s autopsy photos — including pictures of scars the prosecutor said came from being hit with a plastic rod.
The state described a year and a half long pattern of alleged abuse.
“These children were denied food, beaten with a belt, glue stick, plumbing tools… locked in closet… washed down with hoses,” Weyrich said.
But Larry Williams’ defense attorney countered during his closing arguments that the father was not home when died.
“Mr. Williams had absolutely nothing to do with it,” said Rachel Forde.
She told the jury Larry Williams loved Hana and his wife ‘designed, planned and implemented’ the discipline.
“He’s told you he feels responsible. He feels ashamed,” Forde said.
Cari Williams’ attorney will get her chance to address the court with her closing argument Thursday. But Cari Williams has made clear during the trial she blames the discipline on her husband and claims Hana was acting out on a regular basis and accidentally killed herself by being rebellious and refusing to come in out of the cold.”
[Komo News 9/4/13 by Michelle Esteban]
Light of Day blog gives a summary of the case here.
Hana’s Facebook Remembrance page on the day that this goes to jury: AAI covers their behind. How pathetic!
“I have been following the news closely as well in this group. I knew Hana in Ethiopia and saw her regularly and was involved in her adoption, and there have been a lot of misunderstandings about the responsibility AAI and adoption agencies in general, especially in regards to follow up in the US.
AAI was in fact one of the agencies in Ethiopia with the highest standards at the time of Hanna’s adoption. Agencies must be licensed, approved and follow guidelines in both countries. Hanna’s adoption was straight forward and met the guidelines in Ethiopia as well as with US immigration. Follow up in the US however is outside the jurisdiction of the adoption agency. They can request to receive the post placement reports and call and send reminders but the agency CANNOT demand, or visit or request information from the family without the family’s cooperation. The adoption agency works on behalf of a US family to process their adoption. Once the child is placed with the family the agency has completed its work on the US side though for Ethiopia they must continue to send the follow up reports. This of course can cause problems because if families do not send reports, or move etc, the agency has no legal rights in the US to gather the needed information. Even when reports are received, like in the home study, the information provided by the family to the social worker, and their behaviour and answers in scheduled visits, can be manipulated, as we have heard was done by Carrie when she failed to mention her methods of discipline during her initial visits with the state certified social worker.
I would also like to clarify that in Ethiopia (it might be different in other countries) the adoption agency does not represent the child or have any authority over the child, until the adoption is completed in the courts. Orphaned children like Hanna are relinquished to an orphanage by a legal guardian with, what should be, an understanding that adoption is a possibility but not a certainty. They represent the child at court during the adoption process. The orphanage also has the right to reject an adoptive family for a child in their care if they feel that the family will not meet the needs of the child. Kidane Mihret orphanage has done so a few times. They are one of the oldest and best run orphanages in all of Ethiopia. If the newer orphanages followed as strict moral codes as this one, there would be few issues of child trafficking in Ethiopia today.
As horrible and sad as Hanna’s death is, neither AAI or the orphanage is to blame. The blame is with the family, specifically with Carrie, which everyone here agrees upon. The state also needs to remedy its follow up of adoptions after they are finalized in the US, which I believe has started due in part to this case.
That said there is always room for improvement, both in the west and in Ethiopia, but it is best to understand the whole issue before to finding fault and placing blame.”
September 5 Closing Arguments
“Victims in a “house of horrors” or children caught in a “perfect storm” that led to an accidental death.
Those are the choices a jury is being asked to make in the case of a couple accused of abusing their adopted daughter to death and assaulting their adopted son.
Larry and Carri Williams tortured and starved the two children, punishing them more often and more severely than their seven biological ones for reasons they can’t explain, Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said.
But Larry Williams was at work most of the time, including the night Hana died, Snohomish County Public Defender Rachel Forde said. Besides, she said, medical examiners and labs could have found plenty of other causes for Hana’s death, had they been more thorough.
Weyrich called the adopted Williams boy, who testified for about 12 hours in the trial, an innocent victim. Forde called him a liar.
The two lawyers offered closing arguments all day Wednesday. Carri Williams’ defense team has its turn today, and the jury could begin deliberations by week’s end.
The trial is in its seventh week, making it the longest case Weyrich said anyone in his office could remember in all his time in Skagit County.
At the start of the day, Judge Susan Cook instructed jurors on the charges they will consider, defined terms used in those laws and reminded them not to base their decisions “on sympathy, prejudice or personal preference.”
The prosecution’s case
Weyrich kicked off closing arguments by telling jurors the Williamses killed Hana in a way that “was more insidious, subtler” than a bullet to the head or a knife to the heart.
He told the jury to look at the whole picture of what two expert witnesses called torture: Hana’s parents made her use a portable toilet and shower with a hose outside, fed her cold or frozen food, hit her with a belt, glue stick or piece of plumbing line and buzzed off her hair.
When Hana died, he said, she had been spending every night locked in a closet and was under instructions that day not to speak to anyone.
Witnesses throughout the trial have recounted punishments both adopted Williams children endured that their biological siblings did not. But few could recall specific examples of why they got them, instead simply referencing “rebellion” or “oppositionality,” he said.
Weyrich asked the jury to weigh the credibility of various witnesses, including the Williamses themselves, who he said seemed to remember the answers to their own lawyers’ questions but not to prosecutors’.
Hana was “intentionally starved” by people who said they didn’t realize she was wasting away, Weyrich argued. Medical records show Hana weighed about the same amount when she died as when she first arrived from Ethiopia three years before.
One of the elements of the homicide by abuse charge is an “extreme indifference to human life.”
The night she died, Hana had been repeatedly falling down, bloodying her knees and bumping her head on the concrete. Carri Williams testified she couldn’t bear to watch and went inside, assuming Hana was doing it on purpose.
“Whether she’s faking it or not, what could better define extreme indifference than a mother walking along watching her daughter hurt herself?” Weyrich said. “… That blow to the head didn’t cause the death, although it darn well should have caused some concern.”
When Hana began undressing, a sign of hypothermia, Carri Williams told the son she’d asked to help her bring Hana inside to “forget it.” When she later found Hana face-down in the dirt and unresponsive, she covered the naked girl with a sheet before having sons help carry her in.
“Carri Williams was too worried about modesty to bring her child in to save her life,” Weyrich said Wednesday.
Weyrich said Larry Williams, who pinned much of the blame on his wife, was “long on downplaying his involvement but very short on the details.”
“They both played an integral part in this little house of horrors,” he said.
Weyrich reminded the jury of the adopted boy’s post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, constant apologizing and descriptions of fear in the therapy sessions he has had since leaving the Williams home.
All the discipline the adopted children got was for behavioral problems, the Williamses testified. But the couple never used resources available to them through the adoption agency to address those problems, he said.
Instead, the children were isolated, with no contact with an Ethiopian community, few friends and no activities outside the family, he said. The Williamses made sure everything appeared fine from the outside, he said.
“They didn’t want the world to know what was going on on Erna Lane,” Weyrich said. “(The adopted children) can’t run away because they don’t know where to go. They can’t call anyone for help because they don’t know anyone, or know who to call for help. They must stay and endure.”
Larry Williams’ case
Forde began her closing argument by acting out her client driving home from a long shift at work the night Hana died, talking through an inner monologue questioning his wife’s discipline tactics.
“You are not here to judge whether or not Larry Williams was a good parent,” she said. Jurors must apply the law, she said, not a “gut check.”
Forde laid out each element of each charge, saying all the jury needs is “an alternate explanation that is not completely preposterous” to find Larry Williams not guilty.
Hana’s stomach infection, an eating disorder, poisoning or a diabetic crisis also could explain her death, Forde argued. A lab was unable to test fluid from Hana’s eyes that could have pointed to some other cause, she said.
“Had that vitreous fluid been tested, ladies and gentlemen, you might not even be here,” she said. “And certainly you cannot convict Mr. Williams of homicide because a lab couldn’t do a test.”
Even if the autopsy findings are correct, Larry Williams is not to blame, Forde said. Hypothermia is an acute condition, and he wasn’t there when his daughter came down with it, she said.
If Hana was starving, as a doctor testified for the prosecution, she would have eaten the frozen food and wet sandwiches her parents fed her, Forde said.
“These children were not starving,” she said. “… There are too many things that don’t add up.”
Hana looks thin in autopsy photos, but hindsight is clearer than seeing someone in the moment, Forde said. Larry Williams only ever saw his daughter modestly dressed and couldn’t have noticed any bones but her collarbone sticking out, she said.
“Every celebrity in every People magazine has protruding collarbones,” she said. “That does not mean they’re about to keel over and die.”
Forde called the adopted son a “self-professed liar” and said he contradicted himself.
“He’s a troubled kid. He’s had to endure things that are not his fault,” she said. “But just because you feel sorry for him, you should not take his testimony at face value.”
No experts said definitively that Hana was younger than 16 when she died, Forde pointed out. The homicide by abuse charge applies only for victims younger than 16, she said.
Homicide by abuse and assault of a child both require the defendants to have inflicted more than temporary marks and transient pain. Any marks the Williamses allegedly left on their children are gone now, Forde said.
Forde described discipline in the Williams home as an iceberg, saying Larry Williams could not be a perpetrator or even an accomplice because he saw only the tip.
“The evidence is overwhelming that Carri Williams designed, planned and implemented this entire program, no matter what she said on the stand last week,” Forde said.
Even so, Forde said, Hana was really just a victim of circumstance: children from difficult beginnings, struggling with adolescence in an unfamiliar country, adopted by naive parents who thought they could discipline them into obedience.
Forde called it a “perfect storm” that eventually, and accidentally, killed Hana.
Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in the death of Hana Williams, who collapsed in the family’s backyard one rainy night in May 2011. An autopsy showed she died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition.
The pair also is charged with first-degree assault of the younger boy they adopted from Ethiopia at the same time as Hana.
The jury also can consider certain lesser charges.”
[Skagit Valley Herald 9/5/13 by Gina Cole]
Gina Cole’s Tweets September 5 , excerpted as follows:
- “Carri Williams’ lawyer making closing argument now. He also is questioning adopted boy’s credibility”
- “Carri’s lawyer says adopted boy isn’t necessarily lying about things but might not be reliable “in terms of recounting facts”"
- “Carri’s lawyer says his client is guilty of many offenses, abusing children, but not guilty of these charges against her”
- “Carri’s lawyer: Adopted boy was undoubtedly abused and mistreated, so he’s probably biased in this case” WTF?
- “Carri’s lawyer: Carri Williams was a more credible witness than her husband because she was consistent and up-front”
- “Carri’s lawyer to jury: Don’t just consider the evidence the prosecutors showed you; consider what they did not show you”
- “Carri’s lawyer to jurors: “Certainly these children were abused, and severely abused,” but you decide whether it was torture. “
- “Carri’s lawyer: To prove homicide by abuse, state must prove extreme indifference to human life; lots of evidence Carri cared “
- “Carri’s lawyer: You might hate my client, want to lock her in a closet, see how she likes it. But you can’t consider that”
- “Carri’s lawyer: Hypothermia killed Hana, not anything Carri did; Hana “would have died whether she was malnourished or not.” “
- “Carri’s lawyer: We have no way of knowing whether Hana was bulimic and ha been purging by herself in the portable toilet. “
- “Carri’s lawyer: Forensic evidence shows it’s possible Hana was 16 or older. Homicide by abuse applies only if she was < 16. “
- “Carri Williams’ lawyer: Frozen food is unpleasant to eat, but it has the same number of calories”
- “Carri Williams’ lawyer finished his almost-3-hour closing argument this morning. This afternoon, the state gets a rebuttal”
- “Rachel Forde, one of Larry’s attorneys, has objected seven times so far during the prosecution’s rebuttal. All overruled”
- “Deputy prosecutor: “If not for them, she’d be alive.”"
- “Jury, composed of 14 people, now choosing two alternates”
- “Two alternates chosen. Jury now heading back for deliberations. Exhibits about to go back to them”
- “Carri’s lawyers asking the judge to allow her and Larry to have contact with each other and their 18-yr-old biological son”
- “Dependency court will decide on dissolution of or limits on no-contact orders with minor bio children.”
- “Larry and Carri Williams will be allowed to have contact with each other & their 2 adult sons. But Larry remains in custody”
The Case Goes to Jury on September 5
Update 27/September 6, 2013:
September 5 Closing Arguments
“The longest murder trial in Skagit County history is now in the hands of a jury. The group will decide the fate of two parents accused of torturing and starving their adopted daughter.
It’s no easy job as they compare the prosecutor’s contention that Hana Williams grew up in a “house of horrors,” with the defense argument that Hana Williams accidentally died from an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Empathy is the tone Carri Williams’ defense attorney tried to strike, wrapping up his final appeal by admitting his client might be a bad mother, but not a killer.
“My client is guilty of many offenses for the abuse that she inflicted on these children, but she’s not guilty of the charges the state has chosen to bring,” defense attorney Wes Richards said.
Prosecutors say Carri and her husband Larry tortured and starved their two adopted children, and the abuse ultimately killed Hana Williams at their Sedro-Woolley home in 2011.
The day Hana died, prosecutors say she was banished to the backyard. It was raining hard, and the family found her unconscious in the mud a short time later.
“My daughter was completely naked, and just her shoulders and head were on the patio face down,” Carri Williams said while on the stand last week. “Her face was completely flat in the mole hill.”
Investigators say Carri Williams used boot camp methods for discipline, and on numerous occasions forced Hana to sleep in a shower, nursery closet, and a barn for stealing food.
An autopsy showed the girl died from hypothermia made worse by severe malnutrition and chronic gastritis.
The Williams’ other children told investigators that Hana sometimes was beaten with a switch for standing more than 12 inches away from where she was told to stand or for speaking without permission.
“You might feel that she should see how a switch feels, but those aren’t proper considerations for your deliberations,” Richards said.
A witness told investigators that the Williams got their ideas for the disciplinary measures from a book, “To Train Up Your Child,” which recommends switchings with a plumbing tool, cold water baths, withholding food and putting children out in cold weather as forms of punishment, court documents say.
The prosecutor’s effort to charge homicide by abuse requires the victim to be younger than 16. Because Hana’s birth certificate from Ethiopia is unclear, defense attorney Richards feels the charge may not apply.
Richards also maintains his client might be guilty of abuse, but not murder.
“There are certainly many things that Carri Williams could have done differently, should have done differently, but she wasn’t indifferent to her daughter’s well being,” Richards said.
The couple is also accused of assaulting their adopted son, who testified against them during the trial.
The verdict will be announced when jurors finish deliberating.”
[KOMO news 9/5/13 by Joel Moreno]
September 6 Jury Deliberation
One juror is dismissed because he spoke of procedural details to his wife who works in Prosecutor’s office. The jury had met for two and a half hours and had to restart with an alternate juror. Additionally, the jury wanted to hear Carri’s 911 call and police interview. Carri cried crocodile tears while that was played in court.
#WilliamsTrial twitter feed /Eric Wilkerson on Hana trial:
- “Juror in Williams trial will be replaced by an alternate.”
- “Jury must now begin deliberations from scratch with alternate. They had been at it for about 2.5 hours”
- “Replacement juror in Williams trial is here. Deliberations resuming now, but jury must start from scratch. (Heavy sighs from some jurors)”
- “Deliberating jury asking to hear 911 call and police interview with mother, again”
- “Carri Wiiliams very calm on 911 call. She’s wiping her eyes now in court and sobbing”
- “Carri Williams shaking and wiping her eyes as 911 call is played, but it’s hard to tell if there are actual tears.”
- “Carri Williams sobbing as her interview w/police is replayed for jurors. They look unmoved by her apparent show of emotion”
Juror excused from Williams trial [Skagit Valley Herald 9/6/13 by Gina Cole] says “A juror was sent home from the Williams trial Friday after lawyers learned he talked to his wife about procedural matters related to the case.The man’s wife is an employee of the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office, which lawyers on both sides questioned him about during jury selection.
All parties agreed to him being on the jury, said deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula.
When prosecutors learned the juror had talked to his wife about the case, they immediately told the defense lawyers and the court, and Judge Susan Cook excused him, she said.
The man is the second juror to be released from the case. Another juror was excused three weeks ago after he was seen nodding off and admitted to having trouble paying attention.
An alternate has been brought in to replace the juror excused Friday; one alternate remains.”
Update 28/September 6
September 6 Jury Deliberation
Gina Cole, reporter of Skagit Valley Herald Tweet:
- “No verdict today in Williams Trial. Jury sent home for the weekend. They’ll be back at it at 9 a.m. Monday”
When one of Carri’s biological daughters reported that Hana was lying facedown, Carri came outside. Upset by Hana’s immodest nakedness, Carri fetched a bedsheet and covered her before asking two teenage sons to carry her in. She called her husband, Larry, who was on his way home from a late shift at Boeing, then finally dialed 911, telling the operator, “I think my daughter just killed herself. … She’s really rebellious.”
From court testimony, pretrial motions, and a detective’s affidavit, here is what we know about what led up to that night: Hana had been outside since the midafternoon, wearing cutoff sweatpants and a short-sleeved shirt in the rainy, mid-40s drizzle of spring in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.—a small town just 40 miles south of the Canadian border. Carri had originally sent Hana outside that day as a punishment, ordering her to do jumping jacks to stay warm. She walked Hana to an outhouse reserved for her use and watched her fall several times, but went back inside to avoid seeing what she thought was attention-seeking behavior. As the hours wore on, Hana refused to come back in when Carri called. Carri put out dry clothes and sent two of her biological sons to hit Hana on her bottom with a plastic switch for disobeying. But Hana had begun to remove her clothing, and Carri, who believed in strict modesty, called the boys back in.
As the operator walked her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, an even-voiced Carri explained that Hana’s mouth was full of mud, her eyes dilated, “like she’s in a dark room.” Her voice grew annoyed as she described Hana’s nudity, and how she’d been “passive-aggressive,” causing “so much stress!”
Hana was pronounced dead at the hospital, the cause hypothermia compounded by malnutrition and gastritis. The following day, when Child Protective Services tried to check on the other children, Larry Williams refused to let them in. When police followed up, a deputy noted that the family acted as though Hana’s death was “an everyday occurrence.” Twelve days later, detectives and CPS conducted interviews with the children, but their answers seemed rote and rehearsed, all repeating that Hana was rebellious and refused to mind Carri; one child said he thought Hana was possessed by demons. According to investigators, Immanuel said that “people like [Hana] got spankings for lying and go into the fires of hell,” just before Larry abruptly ended the interview.
Two months later, in mid-July, CPS received an anonymous tip from someone claiming that Carri didn’t like her adopted children and that Immanuel was starting to be treated like Hana had been. CPS launched a formal investigation, and all eight remaining children went into state care. In late September, Larry and Carri were arrested and charged with Hana’s death.
When Hana died, she became one of at least dozens of adoptees alleged to have been killed at their adoptive parents’ hands in the past 20 years, and part of a far larger group of children who become estranged from their adoptive families—frequently, as it turns out, large families with fundamentalist beliefs about child rearing. Just within the Seattle area, and just among Ethiopian adoptees who came from the same orphanage and adoption agency as Hana, there has been an unreported crisis of “forever families” that fail. These are adoptions that, in an absence of any real oversight and in environments of harsh discipline, began with good intentions but went profoundly wrong.
On July 22, 2013, I watched as more than 160 potential jurors from around Skagit County filed into the auxiliary courtroom in Mount Vernon, Wash. As preliminary questioning would reveal, many were familiar with the case. Certainly it had received ample coverage, including a 2011 New York Times feature and local TV news stories on the ghoulish fight when Hana’s body was exhumed last January, in an attempt to verify her age for one of the charges the couple faced—the age-dependent crime of homicide by abuse, which applies only to victims under 16. (According to adoption records, Hana was 13 at the time of her death, but the Williamses’ attorneys argued in court, unsuccessfully, that she was much older.)
At the front of the room, with two public defenders, sat Carri, a frail blonde wearing a long skirt, thick white tights and ’90s-style curled bangs, fanning herself compulsively whenever she started to cry. A local TV anchor would later describe her as “arguably the most despised woman in Skagit County.” On the other side of the table, with his own pair of public defenders, was Larry, a 49-year-old former millwright with Nicolas Cage’s long, unhappy face, who’d grown up a missionary’s kid in Jamaica to parents who would marry and divorce each other twice. For nearly two years, a no-contact order had separated Carri and Larry from each other and their children. After Larry sent the kids in foster care an assortment of religious texts that the state suspected were coded messages—Bibles with certain verses highlighted; versions of the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, about deliverance from the mouth of the lion—he was placed in state custody and had awaited trial in jail.
The Williamses’ lifestyle of devout, fundamentalist Christianity would become part of the unfolding trial. Isolated on a 5.6-acre lot set back from the road within a gated community, the Williamses prohibited most TV and Internet access, homeschooled their children, and, according to a report by their adoption agency, only socialized with one or two families beyond their own relatives. According to family acquaintances who later spoke to the police, the Williamses had grown increasingly fundamentalist over the years. Larry had taken to giving sermons in the backyard. Carri, who’d married at 19, went from wearing pants to just skirts or dresses, and didn’t believe that women should wear swimsuits or vote.
As investigators searched the house—so orderly it didn’t look like eight children lived there, wrote Detective Theresa Luvera in her warrant affidavit—they found a fundamentalist Christian child-rearing book called To Train Up A Child, written by Michael and Debi Pearl, which advises raising children to obey without question by starting to spank them when they’re just a few months old. The book has been implicated in the beating deaths of two other adoptees—an American boy in North Carolina and a Liberian girl in California; the prosecuting attorney in the latter case, Michael Ramsey, called it “truly an evil book.”
In court documents, a social worker wrote that the Williamses had “diligently applied [the book’s] concept to all of their children, who told CPS investigators that they didn’t rebel because they were ‘trained’ and because their adopted siblings weren’t ‘trained’ at a young age they were rebellious.” But the book was just the beginning.
According to court testimony, court documents, and pretrial motions, Hana’s life was a series of daily and escalating punishments. She had been forced to sleep alone in a barn more than 80 feet from the house; then in a locked, dark shower room; and finally, in a locked 4-by-2-foot closet, where she spent much of the last six months of her life, perhaps confined for as long as 24 hours as her parents piped in Bible sermons and religious music. (Carri would testify that the longest Hana spent in the closet was 10 hours.) After the Williamses accused Hana, who was a carrier of hepatitis B, of smearing menstrual blood on the bathroom door, Hana was also made to use an outdoor port-a-potty behind the barn that the family only serviced once or twice in the entire year she was forced to use it. She showered in the front yard under a garden hose propped up with sticks, in view of the family. Sometimes the family wouldn’t speak to her for as long as two days at a time; if she argued with Carri about the clothes she picked out, she was made to wear nothing but a towel, and sometimes she had to go barefoot. Hana’s braided hair, of which she was proud, was shorn off three times, once for cutting the grass too short. She and Immanuel were both fed different meals than the biological children—cold leftovers topped with frozen vegetables, or sandwiches deliberately soaked with water. Most often, they had to eat outside, away from the family, even in rain or snow. They weren’t allowed to participate in birthdays or Christmas. And they were spanked with a variety of instruments, including belts, a long, flexible glue stick, and a piece of thin, plastic plumbing tubing that Carri kept in her bra. The misbehavior they were punished for included getting homework wrong, not standing in the right place, and sneaking food. The biological children were sometimes spanked too, but not like the adoptees.
Friends and neighbors noticed that Hana was excluded: trailing behind the family if they went out for a neighborhood walk, or lingering at the edge of the driveway while the other children played. No one liked Hana, her siblings told investigators, but that didn’t matter, because Hana was “always in the closet”; they rarely even heard her because Hana had stopped crying when spanked. At the time Hana died, Detective Luvera wrote in her affidavit, she hadn’t fully participated in family meals or homeschooling for a year.
To a local knitting group she sometimes attended, Carri complained that Hana was rebellious and wouldn’t obey. According to an account in the detective’s affidavit, she seemed upset that Hana had begun menstruating almost immediately after arriving in the United States and she said she “had expected to adopt a little girl, not a half-grown woman.” When members suggested she reach out to the adoption agency, Carri said, “I don’t wish her on anyone.” The family made preliminary efforts to formally change Hana’s age. If they could kick Hana out when she turned 18, Carri told the knitters, she was confident they could train Immanuel to obey. When one knitter asked how Hana would survive, Carri replied, “It won’t be my problem.”
Things weren’t much better for Immanuel. When Immanuel began wetting the bed after a few months in the house, he says, the Williamses accused him of doing so on purpose and forced him to take immediate cold showers outside under the hose. He testified in court that he too was sent to sleep in the bathroom. Immanuel was also punished if he didn’t feel the vibrations of one of the Williamses stomping their feet on the floor to get his attention. Often, he was switched on the soles of his feet, and sometimes Carri ran the plastic switch up and down his face—something she said was a joke. Once, during a family celebration, Larry hit him hard on the top of his head, causing bleeding that ran down his face. Afterward he was put outside and the rest of the family was told not to sign with him. At church, a deaf parishioner, Brian Kruick, sometimes tried to talk to Immanuel alone, to see how the boy was doing, but every time he came close, Larry or Carri would take the boy away.
In foster care, after Immanuel and the other children were removed from the Williams home, a therapist and deaf-children’s specialist, Julia Petersen, said Immanuel had been afraid to talk about the Williamses, fearing he’d be punished. His language skills were delayed and his emotional state confused. He compulsively apologized for minor mistakes and asked his foster mother why she didn’t hurt him. He had nightmares about returning to the Williams family, and felt certain he would have been the next one to die in the home. He once signed to Petersen, “I can’t escape and I have to stay.” She diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
On July 29, Immanuel came to court to testify in the first of numerous half-day sessions where he would tell his story. It was a slow process, involving three sign language interpreters, that left the courtroom silent for long stretches of time, punctuated by sounds of crying—from Carri at the defense table, but also observers in the gallery moved by the sight of the small boy who looked more like 8 than 12 and his continuing confusion about what he’d seen. At one point Immanuel testified that he wasn’t sure where Hana had gone. “I don’t know,” he signed, his hands pausing in midair. “She disappeared. I think maybe she’s dead.”
Around the same time the Williamses were building their family, in the mid- and late 2000s, homeschooling conservative Christian parents of large families had begun adopting in significant numbers across the country, seeing adoption as a form of rescue that demonstrated their faith. Laurie Ann Hinman, a homeschooling Christian adoptive mother of eight who had attended a women’s Bible study with Carri, believes Carri was inspired to adopt by a fundamentalist women’s ministry, Above Rubies, which ran women’s retreats they’d both attended and which had sparked an earlier surge of evangelical adoptions from Liberia (many of which also failed).
In 2008 the Williamses decided to adopt. They looked to a nearby agency, Adoption Advocates International, a secular organization that was started by Merrily Ripley, a mother of 20, 17 of whom were adopted. AAI alerted them to a deaf Ethiopian child in need of a family. It seemed like a good match on paper. Before getting married, Carri had studied American Sign Language, with plans of becoming a sign language interpreter. She’d become a mother to seven instead, and wanted more children after pregnancy complications had left her unable to bear more herself. Carri and Larry completed a home study with AAI, apparently omitting information about the family’s disciplinary beliefs on a pre-adoption form admitted as court evidence. (Gay Knutson, director of social services for AAI, wouldn’t comment specifically on the Williams case, but says prospective adoptive families who spank would not be allowed to adopt from AAI—though some families have lied about their parenting practices to the agency.)
After they’d decided to adopt Immanuel, the couple saw a 60-second video of a tearful but healthy young Hana and agreed to take her too. “Our heart went out to her,” Larry would testify. Both children came from an AAI-affiliated orphanage in Ethiopia called Kidane Mehret, and both were reportedly abandoned. In a process that the Ethiopian government no longer permits, the children flew to the United States with an escort, without ever meeting the Williamses. Early post-adoption reports from the first year—three brief reports from an AAI social worker who visited in the first six months and one from the Williamses themselves at the one-year mark—painted a bucolic, if undetailed picture: Immanuel learning to sign with his new siblings; Hana reading Little House on the Prairie. Medical charts show Hana growing from a slightly underweight 77 pounds when she first arrived to a plump 105 pounds six months later.
But after June 2009, there is no evidence of further doctors’ visits, and no more post-adoption reports, as the Williamses stopped sending in the updates that they’d agreed to provide to AAI, but which weren’t required by law. (Once an adoption is finalized, adoption agencies no longer have the legal right to compel families to provide reports, explains AAI’s Knutson. She says these reports can be unreliable anyway, as parents self-report or may obscure their parenting practices in front of social workers.) There seem to have been no more weigh-ins until Hana’s body arrived at the coroner in 2011. She was between 76 and 80 pounds at the time of her death, lighter than 97 percent of girls her age. In images from the autopsy, Hana’s ribs are visible, her clavicles sharp, her gaunt chest as flat as a boy’s.
When Carri and Larry Williams took the stand during their defense, they blamed each other: Carri for presiding over the abuse on a daily basis while Larry was away at work, unaware of how bad things had become, and Larry as the head of a patriarchal home, where his wife was just his delegate. Although there had been no mention during the trial of the adoptees’ potential psychiatric issues, Larry’s defense team asserted in closing that the family had been utterly unprepared for the challenges of adopting two children with mental health problems on top of the seven they had.
On Sept. 9, seven weeks after the trial started—the longest trial in county history that the prosecutor could remember—Carri and Larry were found guilty on almost all the charges brought against them: first-degree assault of Immanuel, manslaughter of Hana, and for Carri, homicide by abuse. On Oct. 29, they were sentenced—Larry to almost 28 years and Carri to almost 37.
On a Facebook page for Hana, there were eruptions of joy: “Thanks to god.” “We got-em, baby.” Some wanted Michael and Debi Pearl to be tried next. Among the 5,000 members of the page are many Ethiopians and adoptive parents—groups that in Seattle are tightly knit and that had sent daily observers to the courthouse to “bear witness for Hana.”
“We look at our own children, and think, how could that go so horribly wrong?” said adoptive parent Maureen McCauley Evans, who attended the trial almost daily, writing comprehensive blog updates for supporters unable to attend. But she also had an idea how it happened. More than an adoptive parent, McCauley Evans is also the former executive director of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, one of the top adoption advocacy organizations in the country, and had worked for two adoption agencies in the Maryland area. From this experience, she feels Hana’s case symbolizes some of the worst problems in adoption policy today: that families are only required by the Hague Convention on Adoption, an international treaty ratified by the United States, to have 10 hours of preparatory training before adopting, all of which can be done online; that once adoptions are finalized, families have no legal responsibility to report on their children’s well-being; and that a family was able to simultaneously adopt two older, traumatized, special needs children without having traveled to Ethiopia. That the Williamses took no steps to understand Hana and Immanuel’s background and believed that striking and withholding food were legitimate forms of discipline for adoptees—who may have gone hungry or been abused in the past—just made the situation that much worse.
Throughout the trial, heartsick adoptive parents horrified by abuse condemned the Williamses’ home as “the opposite of adoption” and Carri Williams as a sociopath or evil.
“As horrible and sad as Hanna’s [sic] death is, neither AAI or the orphanage is to blame,” argued Gail Gorfe, AAI’s former Ethiopia adoption coordinator, on Facebook. “The blame is with the family, specifically with Carri, which everyone here agrees upon.” (AAI had reason to be defensive; its Ethiopia adoptions were temporarily suspended in 2012 over concerns about abuse.)
But to McCauley Evans, that response was too tidy. It missed the larger, sadder picture she glimpsed when the Williamses’ biological children testified and Carri beamed at them with a face full of love. To her, those moments hinted at the more frightening reality that child abuse isn’t limited to families that are unremittingly cruel or pathologically unattached—just as failed adoptions aren’t the anomaly that agencies claim they are. In fact, as I soon learned, Hana’s and Immanuel’s adoptions weren’t the only ones that had gone badly wrong in this small corner of Washington state.
When I first met Abebe Hehn in early August, 30 minutes south of the Mount Vernon courthouse, he was talking to a pastor about suicide. We were in a Starbucks in a section of town so dominated by halfway houses and homeless shelters—including the one Abebe lived in—that the bathroom had a combination lock on the door.
We’d tried to meet the night before, but Berhanu Seyoum, an Ethiopian Lutheran pastor who introduced us, and who often drives up from Seattle to visit Abebe, hadn’t been able to find him, since Abebe spends as much time as possible away from the shelter. At the time, I was struck that I’d never heard someone discuss suicide in such a straightforward manner as did Abebe. A lumbering but shy 22-year-old who, despite his large frame, managed to disappear into his sweatshirt and jeans, Abebe spoke with the flatness of serious depression, and even Seyoum—a cleric, trained for such moments—struggled to voice optimism, calling the young man’s life ruined. Abebe bobbed his head.
An Ethiopian adoptee estranged from the family that had adopted him, Abebe is also already an ex-con who, when I spoke with him, could only find irregular work waving flags for construction sites, processing crabmeat, or wearing a sandwich board on the sidewalk outside a hair salon. He’s a homeless young man living at a shelter among drug addicts and mental patients, and he is a registered sex offender, with more than a year left on parole. He’s living in such a complicated web of problems that Pastor Seyoum thinks the only way out is for Abebe to return to Ethiopia and start again.
When Abebe was 5, his biological parents died from “some kind of disease they had in Ethiopia,” leaving him and two sisters on their own. Over the next few years, Abebe, his younger sister Belaynesh, whom I also spoke with, and his older sister Mimi, moved through as many as six orphanages in Ethiopia, waiting for a family that could adopt them all.
In 2002, when Abebe was about 10, Belaynesh 8 and Mimi about 13—adoptees’ ages are frequently incorrect, due to inadequate record-keeping and sometimes deliberate misrepresentation to make children appear younger and thereby “more adoptable”—a family from Edmonds, Wash., adopted two of their orphanage friends through AAI, then returned for them.
Julia Hehn, a public school teacher, and Rich Hehn, a librarian, were Methodist churchgoers who had adopted many times before. Julia, whom the kids call Julie, was herself adopted as a child, and also worked with AAI, volunteering in at least one of the three orphanages that AAI partners with in Ethiopia—including the home that Hana and Immanuel came from. She helped set up a school and sometimes escorted children to their adoptive families—among them, she claimed in an online forum, Immanuel Williams.
When the three siblings came, there were already about a dozen children in the home. There were others who’d grown and left—three biological children and some earlier U.S. adoptees. Some children were adopted directly from the orphanage; others, like Marta Wondimagegn (who now uses her biological father’s name), joined the family after their first adoptive placements didn’t work out. Belaynesh had to tally the family’s many members on a sheet of paper, and thinks that all told there were 32 children, including 24 Ethiopian adoptees. Marta thinks there were 31. Another adopted sibling, Amelework, wasn’t sure how many there were because she’d never met a number of her siblings. In 2005, when the Seattle Times published a laudatory profile of the family, there were 22 children; in 2009, when local TV station King News covered“super mom” Julie Hehn, the children totaled 29. To all four of the adoptees I spoke with, it was like being in an orphanage again.
How the family was able to adopt so many children is unclear, but AAI says there are no policy limits on how large an adoptive family can be. In the community, says Marta, now 22 years old, many revered the Hehns: “In Edmonds, she was almost like a Mother Teresa figure.”
While many extremely large adoptive families resemble the classic fundamentalist homeschooling lifestyle of the Williamses, the Hehns were different. Their children went to public school, and both parents worked—Julie in more than one job, as she taught full-time and also helped at AAI and at a family restaurant. But there seem to have been similarities in their approach to adoption. On King News, Julie lamented she couldn’t save all the children she met, and her pastor told newspapers that the Hehns’ many adoptions represented “the very heart of Christian faith.”
Things were more complicated at home. After school the kids say they came back to a household full of chores: looking after younger children, making meals, changing diapers, and cleaning house. Abebe, Marta, and Amelework say they weren’t punished much physically, but that Belaynesh, who was mouthy and sometimes broke things, got hit a lot. According to the four adoptees, she was pulled by her hair, hit with a sandal, banged against the wall, and sometimes sat upon by her parents while they covered her mouth—perhaps in an effort to subdue her or perhaps so the neighbors wouldn’t hear—until she was gasping for air. In a family that eclipsed some orphanages in scale, there was little time for help with homework or individual attention for the children who weren’t young or sick. One sibling says Belaynesh struggled for attention in a situation where, as Amelework put it, there wasn’t “enough love to go around.” Abebe says he heard his sister crying day and night.
“There was a lot of hitting in the house, especially for me, because for her I was the baddest one. I would tell her how I feel or argue something or I would stand up for the kids,” says Belaynesh, now a slight, trembling 20-year-old who wore skinny jeans and a sweatshirt on the day I met her. She says that neighbors called CPS on the family once when she’d been locked in her room for two days and broke a window to get out; but when CPS came, she says, the parents said Belaynesh was out of control. (Washington CPS says they’re barred from acknowledging an incident unless it results in a fatality or near fatality.)
In 2009, when Abebe was 17, something happened between him and another child living in the house—then a roughly 14-year-old girl whom the Hehns describe in court documents as functioning at a much younger age, and who, according to Abebe and Belaynesh, was then the only white adoptee at home. Abebe claims that on one occasion the girl came into his room, proposing sex, but that he was afraid and they’d fooled around instead. According to court records, the girl told her parents that Abebe had been touching her inappropriately on multiple occasions over the past year and that he’d initiated sex.
The police were called, and Abebe, feeling scared, says he confessed to fooling around to his mother. The Hehns then drove him halfway across the state to a family friend in Yakima—a single woman who would end up taking in four of the family’s children for months at a time when there were problems at home. Shortly thereafter, according to court documents, Julie went on a trip to Ethiopia for the summer while Abebe waited in Yakima; a friend’s mother recalls her family caring for his bleeding feet after he attempted to walk back home to Edmonds. After he turned 18, his family pressed charges against him. Abebe says that on the advice of a public defender, he pleaded guilty to third-degree rape of a child, in court proceedings where he required an Amharic translator as he’d never become fluent in English and may struggle with a learning disability. As a junior in high school, he was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
Belaynesh left next. After years of fighting with the Hehns, Belaynesh one day ran into Abebe on a city bus while she was going school shopping with her siblings and while he was awaiting trial. Though they were all supposed to ignore Abebe, Belaynesh hugged him. Soon after, the Hehns took her to Yakima too.
It was the start of a series of homes Belaynesh would live in over the next many months, she told me, during which she bounced from Yakima to Edmonds and back, twice to a teen homeless shelter in Everett called the Cocoon House, and finally to the domestic violence shelter where Mimi lived for two years, and where Belaynesh stayed until the two got an apartment with Mimi’s two daughters last year. During Belaynesh’s years in the family, she was arrested or brought to juvenile court 11 times that she recalls, including for an alleged assault of the family friend in Yakima that landed Belaynesh briefly in juvenile detention—where she requested to stay for an additional month, according to Sharon Harris, an official at her school, rather than return to the house. That year, she was enrolled in four separate schools, leaving her education so disrupted that when Belaynesh later met Pastor Seyoum—showing up at his church requesting prayers for a sick sibling—she still didn’t know basic math in the 11th grade.
Harris, the assistant principal at Eisenhower High School in Yakima, met Belaynesh when she was enrolled in the school by the Hehns’ family friend, and, observing the girl’s apparent discomfort, invited her to talk anytime. Harris, who is African-American, tried to help, first seeking to involve Belaynesh in groups like the Black Students’ Union or her church, but she says the Hehns wouldn’t let Belaynesh join (arguing in one case that she wasn’t black, but Ethiopian).
“She was telling me things that weren’t sounding right,” says Harris, who recalled that Belaynesh would begin to tremble when she mentioned Julie’s name. “My role was to keep her comfortable and keep her spirits up while she was in a place she didn’t know how long she was going to be there.” To Harris, Belaynesh seemed “just a little submissive thing, a 110-pound girl,” who was as mouthy as any teen, but not the violent misfit she’d been painted as by her mother. Harris made a list of professional contacts she reached out to in an attempt to get help for Belaynesh, including the Department of Social and Health Services, its office of the children’s ombudsman, congressional representatives, Ethiopian consular officials, social workers, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, and the NAACP—even Seattle’s local King News TV network, which had profiled the Hehns. But, she says, she couldn’t get anyone to investigate.
Other kids left the family abruptly as well. Amelework, now 21, says she was kicked out after she stuck up for her siblings, criticizing the Hehns for unfairly singling some kids out for punishment. Marta says she was kicked out about 11 p.m. on the night of her high school graduation, after she refused to join a family celebration. All four have struggled to retrieve their vital documents from the Hehns. Julie and Rich Hehn did not respond to multiple, detailed emails, Facebook messages, or phone calls requesting comment. To be clear: Neither of them has been charged with any crime.
When Abebe was released from prison at 19, he was sent to a halfway house with other sex offenders, where he lived for 15 months until he couldn’t afford the rent on the ex-con jobs he could find. He is banned from libraries, movie theaters, parks, playgrounds, malls, and schools—anywhere minors might be. (Clementina Katiraie, the mother of one of Abebe’s friends from childhood soccer, says he couldn’t stay with her family because they have a minor daughter.) If he wants to visit the town where he grew up, he needs permission from his parole officer. And if he doesn’t go home to the Everett Gospel Mission at night, as he’s tempted to do, he worries he could wind up back in jail. For a while, he says, his family wouldn’t turn over his Social Security card, and they still refuse to give him his birth certificate or passport. He’d kill himself, he says blankly, if not for his sisters and nieces.
Earlier this month, as the Williams trial drew to a close, Marta told me she called CPS to ask that an investigation be launched into the conditions for her siblings remaining in the home. “I said, ‘We don’t need another Hana where you want to help when someone dies. We need it before it gets to that point.’ ” She says the woman she spoke to told her that unless the children were not being fed, there was nothing CPS could do. (That “doesn’t sound like something our operators would say,” CPS spokeswoman Chris Case told me.)
“I wish there’s a way to stop Julie and Rich from adopting,” Abebe told me. Belaynesh is less optimistic: “This thing is going to keep going, nonstop.”
Abebe was one of 10 young adult Ethiopians I spoke with who were adopted in the Seattle area—including three of his adopted siblings—through the same agency as Hana and Immanuel. They grew up in the same set of AAI-affiliated orphanages—sometimes moving among multiple institutions—and all of their adoptions later failed, with most leaving their adoptive homes between 16 and 18, either running away or being thrown out. There are many more like them.
All of the adoptees I interviewed were adopted to large families, ranging from six to dozens of children, and most were, to some degree, isolated from the outside world, whether through homeschooling or parents who kept rigid control over their social interactions. Most, though not all, of the parents were devoutly religious and practiced varying degrees of harsh parenting that sometimes included physical abuse. It was, in many ways, an interconnected community of parents who had all adopted through AAI, and who, according to the adoptees, would go on to share parenting and discipline tips and visit each other. (The Williamses, even more isolated, were not part of this network.) Several of the families were linked by their adopted children’s biological siblings, who were divided among the group. And in all the families, there were adoptions that ended badly. More than one told me that Hana Williams’ story, before her death, resembled a sibling’s or their own.
They’re among a surprising number of adopted children across the country who have faced serious abuse, neglect, or indifference in the families that takethem in, some of whom have died in their parents’ care (among them, the 20 Russian adoptees thought to have been killed by parental abuse or neglect and cited as justification for Russia’s December ban on U.S. adoptions). That abuse is part of a spectrum of failed adoptions, from the underground “rehoming” network—an informal way for adoptive parents to offload adoptees, covered in a recent Reuters investigation—to anecdotal reports of many international adoptees being placed in foster care or returned to their countries of origin, to the quieter epidemic of adoptees who leave home in their teenage years, running away or kicked out, unprepared for adult life in America. The Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative, an adult adoptee organization, has spoken to the numerous stories of adoptees landing in youth homeless shelters near or upon their 18th birthdays. We don’t have enough data on adoptee outcomes, because neither the federal government nor the states tracks what happens to children after they’re adopted: how they fare at home or whether they become part of the 10 to 25 percent of adoptions that are “dissolved” or “disrupted,” with adoptions of older children more likely to fail. In this information vacuum, many adoptees can simply disappear—sometimes literally, like Erica Parsons, a domestic adoptee in a North Carolina homeschooling family recently reported to have been missing for the past two years.
Historically, failed adoptions were thought to come from countries where children were either institutionalized for long periods of time (like Russia or Romania) or from post-conflict zones where adoptees may have experienced serious trauma (like Liberia or Sierra Leone). However, the pattern is now emerging with adoptees from countries that don’t share those histories, including China and Ethiopia, two of the top “sending countries” for international adoption to the United States. In other words, problems that adoptive parents have frequently attributed solely to adoptees, for being too damaged to adjust to family life, sometimes have a cause in the parents as well, who may embark on challenging adoptions with abundant zeal but no training or preparation, and a system that provides few real checks. Adoptions that go as catastrophically wrong as Hana’s are due to more than just one bad book, but a toxic combination of unprepared and overwhelmed families, inappropriately harsh parenting that exacerbates traumatized children’s behavior, and an oversight system that too often fails to consider either. And the children’s side of the story is rarely told.
Another part of the picture is the makeup of some adoptive families. As many Christians in recent years have been urged by their pastors to care for orphans, an evangelical adoption culture has grown rapidly, with thousands of Christians attending annual adoption conferences and denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention encouraging members to adopt. It should go without saying that most devoutly religious adoptive parents, or conservative Christian parents generally, are not abusive. However, children adopted by some religious subcommunities—isolated homeschoolers with large families, deeply conservative beliefs about discipline and obedience, and a practice of adopting multiple unrelated children at once—may find themselves in families unprepared to give them the care they need.
Rachel Coleman, a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University Bloomington and a homeschooling graduate, co-created the website Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which tracks cases of extreme child abuse or death in the homeschooling community. Of the 125 cases the site has collected so far, 54—or 43 percent—are adoptees. Much of that she attributes to parenting styles among some fundamentalist homeschoolers that focus on breaking a child’s will to raise perfectly obedient children.
“Adoptive parents coming from this point of view are looking at the child almost as an enemy to conquer. The idea is that there is a payoff: If you can win the battle, you save the child’s soul,” says Coleman. In such a setup, families may be reluctant to admit failure or ask for help, and everything from everyday disobedience to serious problems that need psychological treatment may be instead viewed as “sin issues” to be addressed with religion.
Laurie Ann Hinman, who’d attended Bible study with Carri Williams, and who is saddened that the Williams case may unfairly stigmatize other Christian homeschooling families, believes that something similar probably happened in the Williams home: that the family had adopted with good intentions but had “an unrealistic view of adoption,” leaving them unprepared for the problems that can come. The disciplinary tactics many such families use with biological children with fewer issues, she says, may not work with adoptees. Added to that, she thinks, because of the family’s beliefs, they may have been particularly hesitant to seek help, as conservative Christian families who use corporal punishment are often concerned that CPS intervention will cost them their families.
“Any family that tries to bring in adopted children, it’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. A lot of people make the assumption that if I just push hard enough, that peg will change into the right shape and will fit into our family,” says Hinman. Sometimes that works, she says, but other times, parents respond to failure by just pushing harder and harder. “I think there was a fear, probably starting way back at the beginning of it, where they crossed over the line and knew they crossed [it] and thought … if we ask for help now, then they’ll take all of our kids.”
Gay Knutson of AAI says the question of “mega families” adopting is a fraught one that’s been intensely debated. She says the Ethiopian government discouraged the practice about 2008 or 2009, although large families are still adopting. The complicating factor, she says, is that large families are often the only ones taking in older children—who are already statistically more likely to face a disrupted adoption—or multiple siblings or children with special needs. And, she points out, some small families are dysfunctional as well.
“I wish I had a crystal ball and could say OK, if we place these 100 kids, these 85 are going to thrive and do well and these 15 aren’t. I wish I could tell which of those 15 might be better off staying in Ethiopia,” she says. “That’s the choice: You take a chance or you leave everybody there. That’s the moral dilemma.”
The young adult adoptees I met weren’t in that 85 percent. Meg was adopted with her sister Maria about 1999, when they were about 10 and 13, to a family that would have six Ethiopian children in total. The girls say there was frequent punishment for everyone, but the youngest two, twins, fared the worst: spanked with belts, sent to bed without food, and forced to sleep on the bare bathroom floor.
“When I read about Hana, I thought, oh my God, this could have happened to my little sister,” says Meg.
Although the parents didn’t strike Meg as particularly religious—Maria says they became more so as time went on—they seemed to fetishize obedience. After a neighbor called CPS, the parents sent Meg and her sister to a “lockdown” troubled girls’ home in Florida, the Victory Christian Academy (later renamed Lighthouse of NW Florida, it has since closed) where the girls say other residents were hit and shut in small rooms with Bible recordings playing on loop. Another adopted brother, says Meg, was simply sent away, outside any legal process, to live with a Mennonite family.
Neither of Meg’s parents responded to online messages requesting comment. Neither have been criminally charged with abuse.
Meg’s biological brother James went to a Seventh-day Adventist family on a small farm near Sedro-Woolley that would ultimately have a total of 11 children. At first, he says, the parents had been encouraged to adopt by their church, but as the family took in more and more children from broken adoptions, the congregation grew skeptical. So the parents “left the church and kept adopting,” says James.
James was adopted when he was about 8, with his close orphanage friend Matt, then 11. Matt, whose biological sister Marta and their brother were adopted to another family then ultimately “rehomed” with the Hehns, says he always felt a level of survivor’s guilt about the other siblings they’d left back in Ethiopia, and says he and James once got in trouble for requesting the family adopt them instead of other kids. In many ways, the boys had a typical small-town childhood, with soccer tournaments and freedom to roam on the farm. But they fought with the family’s youngest biological daughter and were forbidden from speaking Amharic, and Matt says he had trouble in school. Within a year after he arrived, he says, the family threatened to send him to another family and once, he says, woke him up for a nighttime ride where his mother threatened to return him to Ethiopia.
When he turned 12, problems grew worse and included what James describes as degrading and abusive physical punishment of Matt. There were sessions of sitting in place for as long as five hours, heavy chores, forced cold showers, and spankings with wooden spoons or belts. Matt says he was once duct-taped to his bed and was sometimes locked in his room or forcibly held on the floor by both parents, one sitting astride him while the other poked him forcefully in the chest—something he says the family called “Chinese torture” that may have been a form of “holding therapy,” a widely discredited treatment for attachment disorders that has gained popularity among some adoptive parents. During one such session, Matt says he blacked out and bit his mother; another time he leaped from his bedroom window and his parents had him hospitalized, claiming he’d attempted suicide. After he came home, Matt says he stayed locked in his room most of the time, eating little and excluded from the family, as his brothers and sisters weren’t allowed to talk to him. He fell into some bad habits in high school, had run-ins with the police over underage drinking and taking a friend’s car and sometimes “ran away” into the acres of land the family owned. Once, his father told him he wished he could kill him, and Matt ran away again. He says that soon thereafter, a judge removed him from the house for his own safety, transferring his legal guardianship to a friend’s mother. Yet another child, Tomas, left the family after their father asked him to reimburse the cost of his adoption.
“I don’t see why they were adopting so many kids when they couldn’t give us what we needed,” said Matt, now 23. “My parents thought we were going to be normal American kids just like that, but we had so many other needs that they didn’t meet, except with discipline.”
The boys’ father could not be located, and their mother declined to respond on the record. As with all of the other families in this piece other than the Williamses, they have not been charged with any crime.
After he was taken out of the family, Matt says he called the founder of AAI, Merrily Ripley, to explain what was happening at home. “I said, ‘Is there anything you can do for my brothers and sisters?’ and explained their situation,” he says. “She pretty much told me that they have no control and they have nothing to do with us after we’re adopted to the States.”
While Gay Knutson says she never heard of Matt calling, and finds his story surprising since AAI tries to be responsive, “There’s a certain amount of truth to that,” she says. “The children are legally adopted … just like your and my biological children. AAI has no more standing once children are adopted; we have no power, as it were.”
Mulu, a 25-year-old certified nursing assistant, was yet another Ethiopian adoptee sent to a Seventh-day Adventist family in the Seattle area, one that would grow to have 15 children—adopting so many, Mulu says, “because that’s what God told them to do.” After Hana’s death, the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle hosted a meeting about adoption, and a number of adoptees came. Mulu was among the first to speak, describing how, with so many children, she felt her own opportunities were cut off, that she was isolated from the outside world, and that there was no one to call when her fights with her mother grew out of control. When social workers came by for post-placement check-ins, she recalls being interviewed in her parents’ presence, so she couldn’t explain what was going on. She thinks, like all the other adoptees I spoke to, that the problems begin with the family’s size. When she heard about Hana Williams, her first question was “How many kids were there?”
Most of the 10 adult adoptees I spoke with said there should be limits on how many kids a family can adopt, since their own families had felt like “American orphanages.” Most wistfully compared their outcomes with those of orphanage friends who were adopted to smaller homes that functioned more like families, and whom they now see finishing medical school or living “the American dream.” Had their situations been reversed, they think they could have had the same.
Quietly, members of Seattle’s Ethiopian community agree. “Every bad case we hear about, there are 15 kids, 17 kids, 20 kids, 30 kids,” said Metti Mulugeta, a member of the Ethiopian Community Center who works closely with adoptive families. Most, she says, are wonderful, but in some homes—often large families, often driven by a mentality of wanting to save as many children as possible—things have gone wrong. And with so many adoptees in each family, there can be a disproportionate amount of harm.
“It seems like of the 25 of us from [the orphanage], I think not even eight have really good families that are happy,” Meg said. “The rest of us are making a family of our own, with each other. The emotion, the love, just wasn’t there.”
Hanna Petros, a retired social worker, volunteers in the Ethiopian Community Center’s ad hoc effort to serve as a safety net for adoptive families before things go wrong. She sees the Williams trial and the mounting number of failed adoptions as interconnected crises, with adoptees’ welfare left to chance and no systemic protection if their family life turns bad. Petros was called on to help with Abebe and the other estranged Hehn adoptees, but on top of her existing pro bono caseload, found their complicated situations beyond her capacity—“a can of worms that I don’t know how to handle”—and declined to take them on. The Community Center, composed mostly of first-generation immigrants, can’t perform what is essentially a government agency’s job. The problems emerging in the wake of the Ethiopian adoption boom, laments Petros, are “beyond what the Ethiopian community can do.”
For now, that leaves individuals like Pastor Seyoum, alone and overwhelmed. “I don’t want to say I’m the only one,” says Seyoum, “but I end up being the only one running around saying, ‘Hey guys, this is going to happen, these kids are going to lose their future.’ ” A proud Ethiopian, he says it’s in his culture “to have broad shoulders; we can take everything.” But he doesn’t understand what’s happened here. “There’s no one who’s going to help these kids. They have just fallen between the cracks.”
ashington’s Department of Social and Health Services and its office of the children’s ombudsman published a report last September on “Severe Abuse of Adopted Children.” The report studied 15 abuse cases, involving more than 30 children, brought to the state’s attention in 2010 and 2011.
Although the research was started before Hana’s death, her story became the focal point, and illuminated common forms of abuse that other children suffered: being locked in rooms or forced to stay outside, having food or access to toilets withheld, and social isolation, often including being withdrawn from school, that obscured the abuse. At least nine of the 26 school-age children were reportedly homeschooled, several because their mother “did not want the teachers feeling sorry for them because they are ‘all sad’ and looked like they are starved at home.” Abuse tended to spiral, as parents exaggerated children’s misbehavior, punishments increased in frequency and severity, and isolated children lost the possibility of reaching outside help.
“You’d think these would have been the safest environments,” said report author Patrick Dowd of the ombudsman’s office, considering the families had all been vetted, but the fact that abuse rates in adoptive homes were commensurate with the rates in unscreened biological families told him that there were serious problems in how adoptive families are chosen and trained.
The report led to a bill, HB 1675, proposed in Washington’s state legislature this March, that would have made small steps toward protecting adoptees with moderate reforms to the home study process and instituting procedures for tracking failed adoptions. It was not a radical bill, and some advocates have called for stronger reforms. But nonetheless, when Democratic Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, proposed a provision asking prospective adoptive parents about their plan for discipline, it met resistance. She says one conservative colleague charged that the bill would invite religious discrimination. Roberts reluctantly added an amendment ensuring no such discrimination, and the bill passed the House, but when it got to the Senate, it died in committee—in part, Roberts was told, because it had “gotten a little controversial.”
Still, the Williams verdict has renewed calls for adoption reform in Washington—which to date seems to be the only state studying adoptee abuse. There is also talk of a federal bill to enhance post-adoption services for families and require better data collection on failed adoptions, and some adoption agencies, including the country’s largest, Bethany Christian Services, have called for action against rehoming. And a new website, Betaseb, is attempting to provide a place for older Ethiopian adoptees to talk with each other privately and learn about their rights.
After Hana’s death, AAI instituted some changes. Adoptive families now have to sign a policy detailing abusive disciplinary tactics they will not use, and their post-placement reporting procedure now extends for a year, rather than six months, and involves interviewing adoptees separately from their parents. Families also must now contractually agree that if they don’t file post-placement reports, AAI can contact CPS or law enforcement to check that everything is OK.
Immanuel is now living with a deaf, African-American foster mother. His signing ability has improved dramatically and, according to court testimony from a parishioner who has known him since he lived with the Williamses, seems happier than he’s ever been.
After the Williamses’ sentencing, the Ethiopian community center had hoped to install a headstone for Hana where only a temporary marker had been. But in October, community members, who had spent months following the trial and years grappling with what had gone wrong, learned that they couldn’t. Two years after Hana’s death, the Williamses’ extended family suddenly ordered a headstone themselves. The birthdate on the stone, the local funeral home told me, will read 1994—three years earlier than the year listed on Hana’s death certificate. As the Williamses head into appeal, the engraving is an attempt to posthumously change Hana’s age from 13 to 16, just as the Williamses’ defense attorneys had argued in seeking to invalidate the trial’s most serious charge, to cast Hana not as a youthful victim but a troubled older teen. If only on a symbolic level, it gives the parents who abused, shunned, and ultimately killed Hana the last word on her life.”
[Slate 11/9/13 by Kathyrn Joyce]