Jury selection began today (July 22) at 9:30 am for the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, accused of homicide by abuse and manslaughter of Hana Alemu. Since she was a minor at the time of her death in May 2011, Hana was referred to as HGW (for Hannah Grace Williams, her adoptive name) during this morning’s process. Over 160 potential jurors were called in today; they will be whittled down perhaps by tomorrow to 12 plus 2 alternates.
Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook, who will preside over the trial, spoke to the potential jurors about the charges against the Williamses, and about jurors’ responsibilities. Larry and Carri Williams were both in the hearing room where jury selection was taking place; each of them has 2 lawyers from the public defenders office. The lawyers for the state of Washington–the prosecutors–were also there.
Since Larry is still in jail, he attended with 2 police officers always at his side. He wore a suit, rather than a prison uniform. Carri is out on bail. As best I understand, all of their children are in foster care and have been since the Williamses were arrested almost 2 years ago.
This trial is expected to last for 4-6 weeks. That makes jury selection (a jury of the peers of Larry and Carri Williams) complicated at this time of year with vacations. And of course, it’s hard to find people who are able to serve for that long a time without undue hardship.
Nonetheless, the “voir dire” process will begin tomorrow–that’s the questioning and filtering of jurors by the lawyers and the judge, to try to find unbiased jurors that are acceptable to both the prosecution and the defense. This process is expected to take place tomorrow and possibly Wednesday.
Around 11:30am today, while the potential jurors were filling out forms, I attended another hearing that took place before Judge Cook. Larry and Carri were present there, with their lawyers. The defense lawyers had dozens of motions about what evidence could be presented at the trial, what videos could be presented, what photos would be allowed, what witnesses would appear, what words could be used (“crime scene”–no; “scene”–yes). The judge ruled on the motions, after the prosecutors responded with comments. Tomorrow, they hope to finish with the defense motions, and move on to the prosecutors’ motions. There may well be a lot of prosecutors’ motions.
There are some 70 potential witnesses for the trial, including the Williamses’ children, their neighbors, doctors, adoption agency staff, Child Protection Services workers, and various experts in abuse, assault, and torture. Many of the motions today had to do with which witnesses might be excluded, so that there is not a lot of duplication of information.
One of the witnesses will be Immanuel Williams, the other adopted Ethiopian child. There is an agreement that he will not testify for more than two hours a day, and that he will have court interpreters proficient in American SIgn Language (Immanuel is deaf). The Williamses are accused of assault and abuse of Immanuel, referred to at jury selection as IW.
The schedule of witnesses at the trial is not clear yet.
My sense–and I am not a lawyer–is that the defense (the lawyers defending Larry and Carri Williams–will argue that the Williamses were strict parents, following their Christian faith beliefs. It is up to the state–the prosecutors–to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the Williamses caused Hana’s death through abuse and torture.
It was a long day. Tomorrow looks to be the same. The trial itself–opening arguments–will probably begin Wednesday or Thursday.
Real-life trials are nothing like those on TV shows. Trials are full of documents and details, questions and comments and meetings among lawyers. Murder trials are not common occurrences in Skagit County, about an hour’s drive from Seattle. The judge is working to ensure that all goes fairly. It’s frustrating in many ways, our legal process, though my hope is that the case will proceed well and that there will be justice for Immanuel and Hana.
I encourage other adoptive parents and anyone supporting justice for Hana to attend the trial, if at all possible. It would be wonderful to show how the community has not forgotten nor will forget her.
I truly hope this trial is a wake-up call for adoption agencies, a call that brings about much-needed changes in pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption services.