Carri Williams Cannot Stop Adoption Proceedings for 5 of Her Children

Carri Williams, sentenced for 37 years for the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu, gave up custody of her minor biological children in September 2013, when she was convicted of homicide by abuse. This past January, she tried to overturn a ruling to stop the adoption of her children. Appellate court judges disagreed.

This means that Carri Williams cannot stop the adoption proceedings of 5 of her children, who range in age from 11 to 18. The two oldest biological children are over 18.

Read “Appellate Court Affirms Ruling on Convicted Mother’s Dispute Over Adoption of Her Children” from the Skagit Valley Herald for more information.


Carrie Williams, looking toward the jury

Carrie Williams, looking at the jury during her 2013 trial.


Appeals Court Oral Arguments for Larry and Carri Williams

This morning the Washington State Court of Appeals heard oral arguments for Larry and Carri Williams, who are seeking to overturn their convictions for the death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter, Hana Alemu. Many thanks to those who were able to attend the 40 minute hearing: there were about 25 people there for Hana, several from the Ethiopian Community Center as well as others who have held Hana in their hearts. It was a great showing of support for Hana. The courtroom does not have space for many more people than were there sitting behind the prosecuting attorney today.

Neither Larry nor Carri were in the courtroom. Both are in jail in Washington state, and this was a strictly legal process. It will likely be weeks before we hear the decision of the court.

As always, I must say that I am not a lawyer, so am writing about this with a non-legal background. In October 2013, Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse of Hana; Larry Williams was found guilty of manslaughter of Hana. Each filed appeals for their convictions in the death of Hana. Information about their sentencing is available here.

Three appeals court judges today heard the oral arguments by attorneys first for Carri Williams’ case, then for Larry. The attorneys for Larry and Carri had submitted significant legal documents for the appeal, which of course the judges had read prior to today’s hearing. The entire hearing was under an hour. This was not a re-trying of the case–it was a legal process to see if errors had been made at the 2013 trial which were signficant enough to reverse the convictions.

The main argument offered by the attorney from the Washington State Appellate Project on Carri Williams’ behalf involved the failure of the original trial judge to grant a mistrial after Hana’s Ethiopian uncle essentially disappeared, failing to return to Ethiopia. The prosecution had brought the uncle to the US, and he had testified (through translators) that he had proof in a family Bible about Hana’s age. Hana’s age mattered for the homicide by abuse charge; Hana had to be under 16 years old for Carri to be charged for that crime. There was controversy about Hana’s actual age, and dental and other experts were witnesses at the trial. The disappearance of the uncle was problematic. The trial judge struck all of the uncle’s testimony, telling the jurors to ignore it. The lawyer for Carri argued today that the mistrial should have been granted.

The attorney from the Skagit Country Prosecutor’s Office (representing the state on half of Hana) argued that the decision to strike the uncle’s testimony was appropriate. One of the Appeals Court judges today asked about the torture definition, as the standard of “torture” was a necessary element for the homicide by abuse charge. The attorney explained that one act in itself (food deprivation, outside shower, or locking in closet) might not have reached the level of torture, but the cumulative effect over time did, and so experts were consulted during the trial about the nature of torture.

Again, no one was arguing about the factual horrific events that led to Hana’s death. The appeals process is focused on whether proper legal procedure was followed in the 2013 trial. Hence, there were discussions today about whether the dental witness should have testified for a longer time, whether the instructions to the jury were adequate, and whether the timing of witness lists was correct.

The hearing then turned to Larry Williams’ appeal. Larry was not home the night Hana died, but had been aware and involved in the various disciplinary techniques by Carri Williams. There was discussion today of whether, from a legal perspective, Larry was an “accomplice” or a “principal” in the events that led to Hana’s death. The attorney representing Larry acknowledged that Larry “doesn’t have entirely clean hands” in the case, but that doesn’t make him an accomplice in Hana’s death that night. In response, the prosecutor argued that Larry breached his duty as a parent by denying Hana basic necessities of life, and participated in deprivation to Hana that was reckless. The jury at the trial believed Larry was a participant; one legal question in this appeal is whether both Larry and Carri were principals in Hana’s death, or whether Larry was an accomplice.

Neither Larry nor Carri has appealed their convictions of assault of a child, which involved their Ethiopian adopted son Immanuel. Today’s hearing was solely about the convictions for Hana’s death.

The judges could take weeks or months to issue a decision. If the convictions are not overturned, the Williamses can file more appeals.

Hana, we are standing with you.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)







Light at the End of the International Adoptee Citizenship Tunnel

Adoptive parents and adoption agency professionals: Step up with adoptees. Insist on US citizenship for all international adoptees. Contact your Congressional representatives. Share this news.

There is now progress and hope that US citizenship will be granted to all international adoptees.

It comes as a shock to many people that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic US citizenship. After all, the children were approved to leave from their country of origin for the purposes of joining US families as permanent legal family members. US agencies and the US government oversaw the process on this end, via paperwork, visas, and more paperwork.

However, until the year 2000, there was no automatic citizenship. If parents failed to file for their adopted children, the children were and are at jeopardy of having uncertain or no status in the US. Despite the intent of adoption–adopted children are part of the family, just like biological children of the parents, right?–and despite the various government approvals, some international adoptees never received citizenship.

Some found that out after they got into trouble with the law, served their time, and then were subject to deportation.

The sweet, cute children who pepper adoption agency ads and whose faces appear on adoption websites grow up. Some make terrible decisions. They deserve their day in court, and they deserve to be punished. They do not deserve to be deported, as adults, to countries to which they no longer have any connection: no language, no family, no friends, nothing, never to return to the US, the place that was supposed to be their forever home.

Many of us in the adoption community are hoping that this situation is about to change. S. 2275, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, has been introduced in the US Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is very good news.

The bill closes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000: it would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted. It is highly significant for thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given the citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. It’s significant for deported adoptees who’ve had to deal with a lot of struggles for, in many cases, minor mistakes. It’s the first US federal law that is being addressed, crafted, and pushed through the legislative process with huge adoptee leadership.

Please help with the effort to get this bill enacted.

Contact your lawmakers and tell them that they should support S. 2275 . You can do so quickly and easily via 18 Million Rising.

Spread the word. This is not a done deal. The bill has to get through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then must pass on the Senate floor. Please share this news, and encourage others to contact their Congressional representatives.

Many thanks to the adoptees and allies who have worked tirelessly on this legislation. Let’s get this done.



Seattle Screening of “Difret”

UPDATE: Tickets are sold out. Many thanks to everyone who bought a ticket.


I am delighted to say that there will be a screening of the award-winning movie “Difret” here in Seattle on December 2, 7pm, at Central Cinema. Please buy your tickets now by clicking here.

The film was produced by Angelina Jolie Pitts, and is based on the true story of a young Ethiopian girl accused of killing the man who had kidnapped her, and whom she was supposed to marry. The writer/director is Ethiopian-born and -raised Zersenay Berhane Mehari; an executive producer is Ethiopian-American artist Julie Mehretu.

Child marriage, or early/forced marriage, has devastating lifelong consequences, according to the film’s writers. Education and empowerment of girls is one solution to eliminating child marriage. The nonprofit She Reads Ethiopia is working to help Ethiopian girls go to school and grow stronger; you can help support their work when you purchase a ticket to the screening.

We will have a panel of Ethiopian speakers after the screening to discuss the film and the impact of child marriage in Ethiopia.

We must sell 78 tickets by November 24 to have the screening. It’s an amazing, important film. Please share this info. Please join us, and buy your tickets today! Amaseganallo. Thank you!



Appeals Court Info on Williamses’ Case

There will be an appeals court hearing for Larry and Carri Williams on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am.The address is One Union Square, 600 University Street, Seattle.  I wrote about the hearing here, and I want to share some additional thoughts, especially if you were interested in attending.

It is a public hearing; all are welcome. There will be 20 minutes of oral arguments for each case, so the hearing itself will last about 40 minutes. There will be no decision made that day by the judge. It is not a huge room, and attorneys for other cases get preference in seats, but there is certainly room for the public. You may want to allow time to get through the security and get a seat.

I know there is great interest in the case, and enormous support for Hana. It will be great to have a strong showing of folks in court for Hana. I want to be sure everyone understands that this is a brief event, a legal process, lawyers talking to the judge. I will be there, and I know several others in the Seattle area who are planning to attend. If you can easily attend, wonderful. If you are unable to be there. we know you are joining us in spirit, and we will update you as soon as possible after the hearing.

Many thanks for all those who have kept Hana in their hearts.



Flipping the Script: Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption

What would you predict about the future of international adoption? Who will be part of creating that future?

I have an article in the November issue of Adoption Today called “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.” That was the title of a panel I participated on at the Families First Conference last June. The conference was co-sponsored by the now defunct Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption.

Adoption Today asked if I would write an article on the same subject for them, and so I did, covering many of the points I offered at the Families First conference. Here is a brief summary of my predictions from a June blog post:

  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
  • Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
  • DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth/first families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

I hope you will take a look at my article and the others in Adoption Today.

Tomorrow, National Adoption Awareness Month (November) begins. While the commentary has historically been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the voices of adoptees and first/birth parents are increasingly being heard. The social media movement #FlipTheScript by adoptees was powerful last November in opening eyes and in questioning long-held narratives that included only adoptive parents and adoption agencies.

I’ve no doubts that this November will see an even greater expansion of #FlipTheScript. That’s another hope-filled prediction, and I am looking forward to reading and learning. We need all the voices, and we need to understand that adoption casts a wide net. Engaging and listening are the only ways to create a better future.

May this November truly bring about an increased awareness of the genuine needs of children (who grow up!), and a deeper understanding of the far-ranging realities of adoption.


Forest, trees: a manipulated, colorful view of reality. © Maureen McCauley Evans


Birthdays and Adoptees: Finding Power in Both

My sons were adopted as babies; my twin daughters at six years old. When they were little, we had the mad abundance of birthday parties, at the pool, the soccer field, the grandparents’ front yard. The parties were full of presents, friends, family, ice cream, and cake.

Who was missing at these birthday celebrations? The women who gave birth to the children. The people (fathers, siblings, grandparents) who are biologically related to them.

I can’t help but wonder what those birth days were like for those family members.

Birthday parties evolve over time. Some adoptees have a rough time on their birthdays. In our family, we have all grown in our understanding of how a child’s beginnings can affect the child, and how powerful memories can be. We have seen how longing for what is not conscious can be quite deep. We have lived watching the ways that trust can be broken and losses felt, and how hard it is to heal that broken trust. My children’s birthdays are still celebrated, of course: they can count on receiving socks every year. And other stuff too. But they are in their late 20’s now. Still very young, but hardly children–except in the sense that they are always my children.

They are also the children–always–of their first families. Each child has had a different approach to connecting with their family of birth, and those stories are theirs alone to tell.

Today is the 27th birthday of my twin daughters, Adanech and Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia in 1994. Aselefech has been actively involved with the adoptee community. She wrote a wonderful post today at Lost Daughters, a writing collective of women adopted in the US or internationally as children. In it, she celebrates her connections with other Ethiopian adoptees whose hearts are in the country of their birth, their mother land, their home country. These young people, part of the diaspora, are actively working to help their younger selves in Ethiopia: children who witness their mothers die, children who are deeply loved but whose families are horrifically impoverished, children who beg on the streets, children who are unable to walk or to see, children who never go to school.

Happy Birth Day. May all children know safety, love, education, and hope. May these adoptees bring light and healing to each other and to the children. May all the voices be heard.

My daughters, my granddaughter, and me. © Maureen McCauley Evans

Lions Roaring: Anthology Update

We are making good progress on “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” our anthology by Ethiopian adoptees. We have essays from writers in the US, Holland, Canada, Sweden, and France; ages range from 8 to 47. We have been contacted by adoptees in other countries as well.

The essays reflect a range of experiences, from writers adopted as babies into loving families, to writers who were adopted by mentally ill mothers, to writers who loved their adoptive parents and thought daily of their Ethiopian family. There are writers who were adopted with their siblings, and writers whose Ethiopian siblings are remembered but were never seen again. Many essays reflect on racism in whatever country they were raised. Some have found their religious faith to be of great solace to them. One considered suicide during adolescence.

It has been an honor to edit the essays. We have more work ahead of us to finish the editing and to begin the publishing phase. We plan to publish electronically and in print, with a publication goal of early 2016.

Here’s an excerpt, by an Ethiopian adoptee who came to the US at 9 years of age, and is now 16:

Near the end of the day, my mother called a cab. I wasn’t sure where we were going to go in a cab. “I’m going to the market place just around the corner,” she said. “You need to stay here with him,” meaning the gatekeeper at the orphanage.

“Why can’t I come?”

“I’m sorry, honey, but you just can’t.” For a second, I thought I saw tears in her eyes. “I love you, my little kitten.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek before the cab drove off.

“I’ll be back” was the last thing she said.

I waited that afternoon for her to come back, even though I knew she lied about the market and was never coming back. I was still hopeful, but as the sun sank and the last glimpse of light hit the land, I knew she was never coming back.



The essays are amazing, heartfelt, and powerful. They reflect resilience, grief, joy, hope, sorrow, and love–the components of adoption.

I can’t wait for you to read them all.









Update on Hana Williams: Larry and Carri Williams Have Filed an Appeal to Their Murder Convictions

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams) Photo from Facebook page: Remembrance of Hanna Williams

In late October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams, the adoptive parents of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams/Hana Alemu, were convicted and sentenced to jail for Hana’s murder and associated torture. You can read about their sentencing here.

Larry and Carri have filed appeals of the conviction, and the Seattle Appeals Court has scheduled oral arguments for the appeals on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am. I will be there, and I hope many other folks in the Seattle area will be there also. A good showing by the public on Hana’s behalf could be a powerful statement to the judges. Many thanks to all who have kept Hana in their hearts.

I feel certain that many folks in Washington State, in the US, in Ethiopia, and around the globe will be watching this case closely.

We haven’t forgotten you, Hana.

October, Traumaversaries, and Hope

T.S. Eliot may have called April the “cruelest month,” but I am thinking October–6 months after April–gives that notion a run for its money. October holds Halloween, and the Day of the Dead. It’s when school kids (right up to college) often move out of the honeymoon start of school, and problems start surfacing. Trees in many parts of the world change their colors, and leaves drop off. Harvest season has ended, fields lie fallow, days get darker.

An Ethiopian adoptee, the British poet Lemn Sissay, wrote this on his Facebook page a year ago today, October 9: “When October arrives, part of me leaves. I want what leaves to come back.”

A year ago today, Fisseha Sol Samuel died by suicide at 20 years of age, near the soccer fields of his college campus. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family, left behind, grieving mightily, healing slowly.

In The Wasteland, Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire…”

Memory and desire. Loss and love. The powerful combination that can firmly glue and sometimes rip apart a family, a child, a beloved soul.

We celebrate or observe anniversaries of important events. Sometimes, less official but quite real, we experience traumaversaries:  a feeling of sadness, anxiety, and/or grief around the anniversary of a trauma (experiencing a deeply disturbing frightening event). I hear this term “traumaversary” fairly often in the adoption community. Adoptive parents note that their children fall apart (crying, overreacting, withdrawing) at a particular point of year because the children had experienced a traumatic event during that time, a year before, 10 years before. Often the body remembers, even as the mind seeks to forget, and an edginess or anxious vigilance can manifest on the anniversary. I know of a young adoptee who had a psychotic episode in October many years ago; every October the fear that it will happen again, the unsettling knowledge that it happened at all, permeates the month.

It’s hard stuff. And it is real. I offer these thoughts to assure people they are not alone in and on their traumaversaries, whether in October or any cruel month. There are resources, and there is hope. Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness, said Desmond Tutu. Sometimes we need to be the light for others; sometimes we ourselves need to look for it. The astronomer Pamela L.Gay, writing about Childhood’s Shadows, notes that “you can only be there for someone when they let you be there. You can only listen to someone who is willing to speak. You can not force yourself into any other person’s life no matter how much you may want to be there for them.

So I watch, and I wait for the moment when my extended hand will be taken. When you are ready for help, understand that I will still be here.

And on this October night, on traumaversaries, and in this cruel, crazy, beautiful world, may we watch, and listen, and extend our hands.


Flower in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans


A tip of the hat to Dr. Jason Evan Mihalko, who today tweeted the link to the “Childhood’s Shadows” post.