These notes are about yesterday’s courtroom proceedings, on July 29. Last night, after I drove back from Mount Vernon to Seattle, I had dinner with friends, and then felt totally exhausted. I was not able to write, in part simply because I was tired, but also because of the nature of the testimony today
The trial began Monday, July 29, with the testimony of Immanuel, the now 12-year-old adopted Ethiopian son of Larry and Carrie Williams. It was an almost visceral moment when Immanuel walked into the courtroom, a handsome, slight boy, now 12 years old, dressed in a slightly too large blue plaid shirt.
Because Immanuel is deaf, the court used the system of “relay interpreters” for the use of American Sign Language. There was one deaf interpreter, and two hearing interpreters. All of the court interpreters were fully certified, which the judge asked about for the record, before the trial began.
The 2 hearing interpreters stood behind Immanuel, who was seated on the witness stand. The deaf interpreter stood in front of Immanuel, with his back to the spectators, and the prosecuting attorney stood to the right of the deaf interpreter. The prosecutor asked the questions of Immanuel. The hearing interpreter signed the question to the deaf interpreter, who then signed the question to Immanuel. Immanuel signed his response to the deaf interpreter, who then signed the answer to the hearing interpreter, who then spoke the response out loud in the court room.
The prosecutor’s questions begin with general questions about Immanuel’s life in Ethiopia. He described his Ethiopian parents as having “disappeared,” and used that same word to say what happened to Hana.
Immanuel seemed quite alert, quite engaged, and quite fluent in sign language. The interpreters had to adjust occasionally, they said, for linguistic abilities, which I take to mean adjusting questions to sign language appropriate for a child.
Immanuel’s testimony is, of course, important because Larry and Carri Williams are accused of first-degree assault on him. The prosecution asked Immanuel about the punishment he received while in the Williams’ home, including being spanked or beaten, being sprayed with cold water when he wet his pants, and being struck on the head by a wooden stick-like object that caused his head to bleed.
My understanding is that, in order to prove the charge of assault, the injuries had to have some sort of lasting effect. So, for example, when the prosecutor asked Immanuel about getting hit on the soles of his feet, she asked him how long it hurt for, and if it took him a while to walk easily again.
As you might imagine, the interpretation process added a substantial additional amount of time to Immanuel’s testimony. Immanuel is allowed to be in the court room to testify a maximum of 2 1/2 hours daily, and is not allowed to testify two days in a row. It is not clear now when he will next be in the court. Several folks from the Ethiopian community were in court today to show support for Immanuel.
One of the more jarring parts of the day was the playing of the 911 tape the night that Hana died in May 2011. Hearing Carri’s voice was quite haunting throughout the call, which lasted about 15 minutes. Most of the time, she sounded remarkably calm on the call.
The 911 operator coached Carri through CPR until the fire department and paramedics arrived at their home. While the jury and the people in the court room were listening to the 911 call, Carri sobbed loudly and Larry had his head down, and looked a bit flushed.
Much of the afternoon testimony was given by Dr. Frances Chalmers, a pediatrician with her own practice and a regional medical consultant for the state of Washington on child-abuse cases. Dr. Chalmers had reviewed Hana’s medical records, at the request of Child Protective Services, following Hana’s death.
Dr. Chalmers was, as all the witnesses were today, a witness for the prosecution. The prosecutor asked Dr. Chalmers questions about malnutrition, and about Hana’s medical records. There was a lot of discussion about the growth charts that are typically used to plot a child’s growth. Dr. Chalmers used records from 2008 and 2009, from Hana’s pediatrician.The medical records showed that Hana gained weight steadily during her first year and a half or so in the United States, even being a little bit overweight at about 108 pounds.
At the time of death, Hana weighed 80 pounds, a precipitous weight loss for a young girl.
The defense attorney then questioned Dr. Chalmers about a PowerPoint presentation about malnutrition that Dr. Chalmers had done for social workers.
The defense attorney, rather startlingly, showed two photos from Hana’s autopsy.
It was a very casual, matter of fact approach to showing these photos. Dr. Chalmers indicated from the photos how she could see Hana’s ribs and shoulder blades, which can indicate malnutrition, if not starvation.
I understand, as do others in the court room, why it was necessary to show these photos.
Nonetheless, given the emotions in this case, it seemed a cold approach by the defense attorney, and could have been presented with more respect.
What might be even more startling is that the defense is apparently going to suggest that Hana was dealing with either bulimia or anorexia, and that was the reason for her severe weight loss.
Dr. Chalmers discussed Hana’s medical conditions, which included the bacterial infection H. Pylori and the condition of Giardia.
Dr. Chalmers said at least twice that if the H. Pylori and the Giardia were so severe as to create this sort of weight-loss, because the conditions can involve diarrhea and vomiting, most likely someone with these conditions would’ve gone to a doctor, long before the weight loss occurred.
I did not hear any testimony yesterday that suggested that Hana went to a doctor during the last year of her life.
The prosecution also call Sarah Willard, the next-door neighbor of Larry and Carrie Williams. Her testimony was brief, focused on her having seen all the kids playing together, and then seeing Hana and Immanuel far less often in the spring of 2011, prior to Hannah’s death. She was also questioned by the defense, as to when and how she had last seen Hana.
Quite a day.