August 2: Update on the Williamses’ Trial

The day began with the testimony of John Hutson, the prosecutor’s witness about torture. Mr Hutson said he had reviewed hundreds of pages of material on the case, and then, based on the questions from the prosecutor, outlined what “torture” means.

According to Mr. Hutson, torture occurs internationally and in the US, and has occurred throughout history. It can be a single event (the rack, thumbscrews) or can occur in a series. Duration also matters: being in a locked, dark closet for a few minutes is different from being in a dark, locked closet for hours at a time, over a period of weeks. He said that isolation can be a form of torture (again, extent and duration matter); coupled with malnutrition and physical pain, if it occurs for a long enough time, at some point it indeed becomes torture.

He briefly discussed the Geneva Convention and the US Constitution, noting that the common ground of what torture is generally includes cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Torture, he said, is not exclusively physical pain and suffering. It can include mental and psychological suffering as well. Isolation is among the most insidious forms of torture. Threats of torture, and watching someone you care about undergoing torture, can also be forms of torture.

What determines torture? (1) What is being done, and if things are being done in combination (beatings, food deprivation, humiliation, sensory deprivation) (2) How long these things are done for. Mr. Hutson noted that the impact of torture can be very different for a 25-year-old Marine versus a child, an ill person,or an elderly person.

What are the motivations for torture? Mr. Hutson said that torture is not accidental–there is some sort of motivation, whether to get someone to confess (Salem witches, military intelligence gathering), to modify behaviors, to punish past behaviors, or to influence the behavior of a person watching torture.

Mr. Hutson: That said, it doesn’t matter what the motivation is for torture. There may be an excuse, but there is no justification. To me, this is the heart of the entire day, if not the entire case.

Mr. Hutson then reviewed the various events that were part of the reports regarding Hana and Immanuel: reports from Child Protection Services, the police, doctor, coroner, and so on. He noted the beatings on the soles of the feet (painful, the marks less visible to others–he called this a classic example of torture), the cold shower, the outside showers, the confinement in the shower room and closet, the isolation from the rest of the family, the separation on birthdays and Christmas, the food deprivation (and the frozen vegetables, the wet sandwiches, served outside away from the rest of the family). He noted how disquieting these things are to the person to whom it is happening, and how the isolation in particular causes the person to be less able to cope when other things happen. These events can all make a victim less able to endure other things, especially when they don’t have strength from others to support them. Sen. John McCain, Mr. Hutson commented, has spoken about the torture he received while a prisoner in Vietnam, and how he gained strength from the other POWs–that was how McCain survived.

Both Hana and Immanuel are alleged to have endured all sorts of abuse. An additional element of abuse and perhaps torture, for them, was witnessing the other being abused. Mr. Hutson stressed that it is duration, as much as the force of physical abuse, that determines torture. How much time? How frequently? People who endure torture get worn down over time. Apprehension and confusion can be significant as well. You know the pain or isolation will happen again, but you don’t know when. And/or you don’t know what rules you’re breaking and how to comply. Also, you may be confused if the people who are harming you are the ones you believe should be caring for you.

Mr. Hutson then reviewed additional factors that could have contributed to the definition of torture: a prohibition to express emotions (such as crying); head shaving (not necessarily in itself torture, but a classic example of expressing  power and control, perhaps especially over a girl); the humiliation of using a Port-A-Potty outside (especially if it’s not well-maintained); the temperature of water (cold water, outside, involuntarily used); and the amount of time over which the various incidents occurred. (What a person can endure is different if it happens once or twice as opposed to 10 times, or if it happens several times a day and over several weeks’ time. People get worn down; they get weaker and become more susceptible to pain.)

He concluded that Hana and Immanuel were subjected to torture.

The defense attorney, Ms. Forde, then began her cross-examination. She challenged Mr. Hutson’s knowledge of the Constitution, the status of the law school for which he had been Dean, the fact he had not interviewed all the children, that he did not know the Washington state law about parental discipline, that there are many discrepancies in the various testimonies, that Mr. Hutson had said he had not read “every word” of the documents. She reviewed a lengthy list of hypotheticals: What if you learned that there was plenty of room in the closet to stretch out? What if you learned the spankings were not beatings? Would that then be torture? My sense is that she was outlining, or hinting at, what the defense witnesses are going to argue.

She closed by noting how much money Mr. Hutson, as an expert witness, stood to make in this trial, and suggested that he would now go on to make even more money as a result of testifying here. He disagreed.

The afternoon witnesses included women who knew Carri Williams from church or from her knitting group. Kay Starkovich, from the Wednesday morning knitting group, said that Carri had talked about her troubles with Hana at the group. The group suggested that Carri return Hana to the agency, but Carri said no. “She wouldn’t wish Hana on anyone.” The defense attorneys established that the only contact Ms. Starkovich had had with Carri was occasionally at the knitting store.

Another witness, Rona Engelson, has known Carri for about 14 years. Ms. Engelson had given piano lessons to the Williams’ children, and the two women had visited at each others’ homes, attended baby showers together, and given each other gifts. She said that Carri would teach from the Bible that men were the head of the household and that wives should submit to their husband, and that children should obey their parents. She said Carri kept a spanking rod in her bra strap, a thin rod about 12 inches long. Ms. Engelson said that Carri believed Immanuel was capable of not wetting his pants, that he wet his pants purposely. She said Carri believed Hana was sneaking out and stealing food, and that is why she was locked in her room. In phone calls, Carri had told Ms. Engelson that Hana and Immanuel were much harder to train than her other children. Carri, said Ms. Engelson, demanded perfection of her children and had the same expectations of Hana and Immanuel as she did the other children.

The afternoon ended with Detective Dan Luvera, who’s been a detective with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office for the past 5 years (a total of 27 years with the Sheriff’s Office).  He was among the officers at the Williams’ house the night Hana died, and he attended the autopsy the next day, noting Hana’s injuries (abrasions, bruises) and that she was very thin. The detective had taken many photographs at the Williams’ home, including of the clothing on the ground in the back yard–clothing that Carri had set out for Hana (a short sleeve shirt, underwear, and blue nylon sweatpants), and clothing that Hana had taken off in the course of “paradoxical undressing” that occurs during hypothermia (a short sleeve shirt, loose capri-length shorts, socks, sneakers).

Det. Luvera had collected and packaged the clothing items as evidence the night Hana died. In court, he unpackaged and identified each item, which was then placed in evidence for the trial. This took quite a while.

He also testified that he and other officers had questioned the Williams’ children about Hana’s death, and that Larry and Carri insisted on being present. My sense is that usually children are questioned outside of their parents’ presence. Det. Luvera said the children looked at their parents before answering any questions.

The final part of Friday afternoon involved the prosecutor showing many photos to Det. Luvera, who identified them as photos of the Williams’ home.  The photos were then introduced into evidence. They have not yet been shown to the jury; that will likely happen Monday perhaps, if Det. Luvera testifies again then.

Court will resume Monday August 5 at 9am. The witness list was not announced.

4 thoughts on “August 2: Update on the Williamses’ Trial

  1. Pingback: Hana Grace Williams Trial

  2. The Williams behavior towards Hana and Immanuel has always sounded like torture to me. Beating a human being on the soles of the feet is torture. That the Williams “trained” their biological son(s?) to perform this heinous act on the adopted children is inexcusably monstrous. I’m expecting the older boys will pead the 5th.

    The repeated shaving of Hana’s head is also loathsome. How was Hana getting head lice in Carri’s spotless home where she was supposedly homeschooled? I’m not buying there was any head lice. That was Carri’s ruse to shame her.

  3. Pingback: Williams Trial – Day 10: Testimony of Torture Expert | Why Not Train A Child?

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