July 26: Update on The Williamses’ Trial

This morning was filled with motions largely by the defense attorneys for Larry and Carri Williams. If you are a witness, and equally emphatically if you are a juror, stop reading this blog and any other social media or news source about the trial.

My blog was discussed briefly at this morning’s hearing. I’m now aware of a few things: The attorneys (or their staff or investigators) are paying attention to Facebook postings about the trial. “Monitoring” might be an apt word. A potential witness (I don’t know her) commented on something I posted on my blog. Witnesses should not be reading about the case, or about the motions; the same is true, of course, for jurors. In commenting that the blog writer has been in the courtroom all week, one of the attorneys pointed to me, saying “And I think that’s her!” Another attorney gave me a compliment, saying the blog has been objective. So, I guess I’m in the official transcript now.

Please let me say that I fully support and understand the rationale for witnesses and jurors to be as impartial and open-minded as possible. We all want this to be a fair trial.

And with that, let me summarize today’s proceedings. Motions this morning covered issues about family dynamics as part of the case offered by the state (the prosecution) around isolation of Hana and Immanuel, about the medical condition of Hana and Immanuel, and much discussion about Hana’s date of birth.

Her date of birth is a point of contention: whether the birth certificate from Ethiopia is correct or a made-up date, whether the Williamses chose a date for Hana’s birthday, whether the date on the Certificate of Citizenship is accurate, what documents the Williamses might have placed the date of birth on, including the death certificate.  This matters mightily because of the Homicide by Abuse charge.  That charge (and its 20+ years of prison penalty) applies for minors under 16 years old. If Hana were to be proven to be 16, the charge would not hold.

A number of adoption agency-related issues were discussed, and another adoptive mom and I had a hard time not raising our hands to offer some assistance. She and I talked about the availability of and need for post-adoption services, the responsibilities of both agencies and adoptive parents to know about the services and provide/use them, and the value of the adoption community to adoptive parents, especially those who are struggling. I’ll say more later, not about the motions so much as the value of post-adopt services, and some strategies for accessing and increasing them.

After the lunch break, at 1pm, the courtroom was much fuller than it had been all week. The benches were full of people, and the jury appeared from a back room, with badges on and notebooks available on their chairs. Note-taking is optional; all notebooks will be destroyed at the end of the trial. There are 15 jurors, 10 men and 5 women. Given the possibility of emergencies or illnesses, the jury has 3 alternates built-in. At the end of the trial, if there are still 15 people, 3 names will be randomly drawn, and those 3 will be considered the alternates and be dismissed.

Opening Statements

Rosemary Hawkins Kaholokula presented the Opening Statement for the prosecution. Ms. Kaholokula and Rich Weyrich, Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney, are representing Washington State, and thus Hana and Immanuel.  Ms. Kaholokula began by showing a photo of Hana at her arrival at SeaTac Airport on August 16, 2008, noting that less than 3 years later, Hana was dead. She showed a photo of Immanuel as well.

She talked about the Williamses’ 5 acres of land, including a barn, and their 7 biological children. She said that the first year and a half or so after the arrival of Hana and Immanuel, things went  well, until they went horribly wrong. She stated that the children received not discipline or punishment, but abuse, even torture. 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.

Within the last year, Hana lost 25% of her body weight, and weighed about 80 pounds at death.

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).

Ms. Kaholokula then described Hana on the cold, drizzly night she died, just after midnight on May 12, 2011. Hana was again punished and made to stay outside, and at some point essentially began to lose control of her body from the effects of hypothermia. She took her clothes off, one of the odd manifestations of hypothermia as the brain becomes confused and starts to lose consciousness. She stumbled and fell down. Carri Williams, who had been watching from inside and had been trying to get Hana to go inside (Hana had refused), went outside. With the help of her children, she brought Hana in, called Larry Williams, then called 911. Hana was dead by the time she reached the hospital. The prosecution then told the jury that additional evidence would be shown to find Larry and Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse and manslaughter in the case of Hana, and assault in the first degree in the case of Immanuel.

Carri and Larry Williams each have two public defenders. Carri’s lawyer began by describing Hana’s last night, saying that Carri made several attempts to get Hana to go in, and left out clean dry clothes for her. Carri asked her 3 teenage sons to bring Hana in, but Hana dropped her pants, and the boys went back in. Daughter Kara saw Hana face down, and Carri went out to check on Hana.  She went back in to get help, brought a sheet out to cover Hana, and they brought Hana back into the house.

The lawyer said that we are not here to argue that Carri Williams was appropriate with punishments or that her discipline techniques were good or appropriate. Yes, the discipline was excessive, but was it substantial bodily harm?

Carri Williams had always wanted to be a mom and have a big family.  She was also passionate about American SIgn Language, and had studied that in college.  She and Larry had 7 children by the time Immanuel and Hana were adopted.  They were very religious. Carri homeschooled all the children, and Larry worked Monday through Friday at Boeing, from noon to midnight.

Carri’s lawyer responded to many of the points made by Hana’s lawyer: None of the other children saw the bleeding that Immanuel alleged had happened when Larry hit him on his head. Hana and Immanuel had to sleep in locked rooms because they kept taking junk food. When Hana was menstruating, she had smeared blood on the bathroom wall, and that’s why the outdoor toilet was brought in for her. While Hana and Immanuel were given leftovers as punishment, they were normal portions, and not old or spoiled.

The trial, Carri’s lawyer said, was not to see if Carri was Mother of the Year, but to see if Carri caused Hana’s death and assaulted Immanuel. The jury was there to see if the facts meet the legal definition of a crime. They agree that the discipline was excessive, but was it truly a crime?

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.

Ms. Trueblood finished with a description of the efforts to document Hana’s age, noting that Hana’s body was exhumed in January 2013, but dentists and radiologists could not say with certainty that Hana was under 16 years of age. She also said that Hana’s weight loss was due to intestinal parasites and H. pylori, a bacterial infection causing great stomach discomfort.

Hana’s last night was spent outside, but at no point was the door locked, said Ms. Trueblood. At no point did Larry Williams know the severity of Hana’s behavior that night, until Carri called him as he was driving home from Boeing and he told her to call 911. Both parents worked to provide CPR to Hana. Ms. Trueblood noted that all the children were placed in foster care a few months after Hana’s death, and have not seen their parents since then; many of the children will be testifying at some point during the trial. She said that the jury had to consider bad parenting versus criminal behavior, reminded them about Larry and the scoop of ice cream, and urged them to find Larry not guilty.

The judge announced that testimony would begin on Monday July 29 at 9am, when Immanuel will testify, using a certified ASL translator. It is unclear what other witnesses will testify.

Off and on, Carri Williams wept during these Opening Statements. She wasn’t the only one.

12 thoughts on “July 26: Update on The Williamses’ Trial

  1. Pingback: Williams Trial – Day 1: Opening Statements | Why Not Train A Child?

  2. Pingback: Hana Grace Williams Trial

  3. Thank you so much for covering this story and providing unsensationalized information. It’s hard to trust the media as they look to shock people. This story is shocking and horrible enough without adding to it. You are being a voice for these children, thank you.

  4. Pingback: Hana Alemu | Ethiopian Canadian Kids

  5. A scoop of icecream a father does not make. A few sorry tears a mother does not make. Honestly – does anyone HAVE to ask whether this couple abused their children ? No. It’s obvious they did. Whatever those two children did did NOT mean their new parents could beat them, starve them and treat them worse than something on the bottom of my shoe!

    Thank you for being there for Hana …. I can only imagine how hard this will be for you …. but thank you ….

  6. I finished this post in tears. Hadn’t realized that you were covering this trial in person. What a brave, tough, clear-minded thing it is to ask of yourself, to witness what was done to Hana and give voice to her tragedy. Take care of yourself.

  7. Thank you so much for being there and updating us. I wish I could be there. I am sure it will only become more difficult to sit through and I genuinely appreciate your sacrifice. We cannot forget these two children.

  8. Bad parenting that is especially cruel to two children who have not been raised for 7, 12, or 15 years with strict rules. Adopting an infant allows you to teach them your ways of life from the beginning. Adopting a teenager means you have to THINK about what they have been taught as children and work with that to make their behavior socially acceptable.
    These were not the malleable minds of children. These were teens and pre-teens.

    Were any of the biological kids made to sleep outside or in the shower? They were biological children and probably obeyed immediately out of fear like I did as a child.
    I also “stole” food. Mostly crackers and snack food because that was THE EASIEST thing to take. I was hungry and my body instructed my mind to fulfill my bodily needs. My mom punished me (and my older brother who took with me) multiple times (I was young, under 14) and I still took food. I couldnt “steal” drinks because the milk and juice were monitored. I couldnt “steal” food from the refrigerator because: who eats cold rice? The easiest things to take were small, could fit in my pocket, and had a quick sugar high to ward off the hunger till the next meal,

    And I was a biological child in a family of 6,7, or 8 kids and up to 4 native girls where my parents were missionaries (my parents kept having kids). My father supported us and as many people as he could take in, but food only stretches so far. I was in NO danger of starving, but I was nevertheless hungry at times. The meat was portioned out rigidly, the vegetables were available (but hated by children the world around!), and then there was rice. I liked it, but even at times it was gone before I could eat seconds.

    **In telling someone once about the whole “stealing” food situation, they gave me an answer I had never realized. I was not STEALING because it was my father’s and mother’s food meant for me and I as their child had a ‘right’ to it. I was taking it without permission, but it was/is FAR from theft. Fundamentalists like to call everything that is not 100% their way a sin and put terrible names on it. Its NOT STEALING.

  9. Bad parenting versus criminal behavior? Seems like a redundant comparison to me when the bad parenting leads to a death – wholly unnecessary death. Should be rephrased, when bad parenting leads to criminal behavior.

  10. Thank you so much for your detailed and important account of today’s proceedings. I can’t stop thinking about the case and trial ….and especially Hana and Immanuel. I know next to nothing about the law, but am worried about this age thing being a major issue. Thank you for being so dedicated and attending the trial.

  11. Pingback: Williams Trial – Day 5: Opening Statements | Why Not Train A Child?

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