This post is Part 1 of 2. It covers the judge giving the jury instructions, and gives highlights of the prosecutor’s closing argument, which was completed today.
The second part, which I will post tomorrow morning, will cover the closing argument of Rachel Forde, the defense attorney for Larry Williams. A preview: Ms. Forde not only threw Carri under the bus, she drove right over her. Ms. Forde began and ended her presentation sitting on a chair across from the jury, pretending she was driving, doing her own, vivid re-enactment of Larry Williams’ two phone calls with Carri on the night Hana died.
Larry was at work all day, and knew nothing of what was going on in the house the day/night Hana died. Carri, according to her children and her knitting group associates, was the one who chose the food, took the food away, decided the punishments, and couldn’t wait for Hana to turn 18 so she could kick her out. Ms. Forde’s ending remarks went something like this: Why did this happen? Because Larry and Carri were unprepared. They were both naive. They thought Hana and Immanuel would respond to the same disciplinary tactics that their other children had, and they didn’t foresee the mental health problems of older, internationally adopted children. Hana’s death was accidental; neither Larry nor Carri saw a substantial risk that Hana would die. And about the hypothermia the coroner said Hana died from? Could have been bulimia, a poisonous plant, or diabetic ketosis. Remember, Rachel Forde is Larry Williams’ attorney, and her main job is to create a reasonable doubt in the jury’s minds about the circumstances of the crimes and the role of the defendant.
Judge Susan Cook gave instructions this morning to the jury about the charges against Larry and Carri Williams: homicide by abuse manslaughter (of Hana), and assault of a child (Immanuel). There are degrees of manslaughter and assault for which they could be charged (first degree manslaughter is harder to prove and carries a more serious penalty than second degree, for example). To prove these charges, the jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt about torture/assault, about extreme indifference on the part of the abusers, about reckless conduct, about criminal negligence, and about physical/bodily harm. (The different charges have different levels of proof.) The jury is not to think about the possible jail terms/sentences, but to focus on being impartial in making their decisions, based on the evidence and on the law.
Rich Weyrich, the Skagit County prosecutor for the state (Hana), delivered his closing argument. He focused on what he called “a house of horrors” that Hana and Immanuel lived in for less than 3 years, when Hana died and all the children were removed from the home. He started with the photo of Hana and Immanuel arriving at SeaTac airport 5 years ago this month, “the promise of new adventure and a wonderful life” ahead of her. He said Hana was killed by the defendants, just as a bullet to the head, a knife to the heart, would do. But “this was more insidious, more subtle,’ he said, given the anguish and misery inflicted on both children. Larry and Carri Williams tortured and starved Hana until she died, and assaulted Immanuel: Mr. Weyrich left the impression that Hana’s fate could have easily become Immanuel’s as well.
Weyrich quoted George Bernard Shaw: “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent toward them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” Larry and Carri, he argued, showed “extreme indifference” (that’s part of the requirement for the homicide charge) to Hana’s well-being, intertwined with torture. That’s why there were at least 2 experts on torture at this trial: to explain the significance of frequency and duration of behaviors like isolation, spankings (beatings, swats), sensory deprivation (being locked in a closet without a light), degradation (head shaving), food deprivation (including unpalatable food, such as wet sandwiches and frozen vegetables), and the psychological impact of not knowing when one would again be punished, as well as witnessing loved ones being punished.
This has been the longest criminal case ever in Skagit Count, Mr. Weyrich observed to the packed court room. (Maureen: This has to be the most expensive also. Hundreds of thousands of dollars may well have been allocated to this case, in terms of Larry’s having been jailed for 2 years, the 2 years so far of foster care of some of the Williams’ children, the 4 public defenders and the 2 state’s attorneys, the expert witnesses, the 400+ pieces of evidence that have been admitted, the paper and the notebooks that have been used in this case, and I’m sure other expenses that I can’t think of at the moment. Incredible.)
Mr. Weyrich reviewed the nature of direct versus circumstantial evidence. (Direct is what you saw; circumstantial is what you infer.) He noted that Hana and Immanuel were punished for “rebellious” and “oppositional” behavior, but witnesses, in particular the other Williams’ children, described those behaviors as actions such as failure to say thank you properly, cutting the grass too short, changing math answers, or not standing in the right place.
(Maureen: This has been one of the many heartbreaking puzzles in this trial. It’s never right to beat or starve a child, or lock a girl in a closet. And this happened not for injuring other children, destroying property, setting fires, eviscerating pets, sexually molesting another child, or anything truly heinous. Neither Larry, nor Carri, nor any of the Williams’ children reported anything like that.
The incident of wiping menstrual blood on the walls is indeed disturbing, but did not harm anyone. None of the Williams’ children even mentioned it in their testimony. in any case, the response of most parents would be to contact a therapist or medical professional, not to buy a Port-a-Potty and install it 80 feet from the house, or lock a 5 foot tall child in a 51″ closet.)
The night Hana died was reviewed in some detail. Mr. Weyrich noted the indifference with which Carri viewed Hana’s falling down and “face-plants” as she was walking to and from the Port-A-Potty around 8:30 that night; Carri said on the witness stand that Hana had smacked her head two times. Weyrich termed this “extreme indifference,” a mother watching her child repeatedly fall, bloodying her knees, and smacking her head–and then deciding to go inside the house because she couldn’t stand watching Hana do this anymore. (Most parents would find their child hitting their head twice on concrete to be sufficient cause to call a doctor.) Carri did have at least 2 sons go out and hit their younger sister with the switch on her bottom because she wouldn’t come inside. (This also has disturbed me each time I’ve heard it: Carri was deeply concerned about modesty, and that her teenage sons wouldn’t see their sister’s naked body. Yet she allowed these teenage boys to hit their sister on her bottom with a plastic rod. I find that odd and disturbing.) Hana had unexplained marks the shape of the 1-inch switch on the back of her legs, per autopsy photos.
Carri brought out cold spaghetti for Hana to eat for dinner, and testified that Hana put some on a fork, brought it to her mouth, and then put the fork down again. So after about 5 minutes, Carri brought it inside. Mr. Weyrich noted a warm meal that night might have been better. (Another point I haven’t understood is why the temperature that night has not been determined and stated in this trial. I’ve found via a quick Google search that the temp in Skagit County on the night of May 11, 2012, was 42 degrees. Earlier in the day, as Carri testified, it was in the 50’s. But no one has established that the night temp was in the 40’s: it’s cold in Skagit County in mid-May. It was a cold, drizzly night the day Hana died.)
Hana was not allowed to talk that night. That’s why we haven’t heard any testimony about her verbal responses: she was being punished, though no one knows exactly why. (It also tells us something about her isolation and loneliness that night.) Once daughter Cara saw Hana face down on the ground, Carri went outside–then got a sheet to cover Hana’s naked body (from paradoxical undressing that occurs with hypothermia), tried to carry her in with Cara, was unable to, called the boys to carry Hana (though not see Hana’s nudity), called Larry, and then called 911.
Hana’s age: Mr. Weyrich discussed the various experts who have commented on Hana’s age, noting that most put her at 15 years old, via teeth and bone analysis. (The jury needs to believe she was under 16 for the more serious charge of homicide by abuse to stand.)
Starvation: All the Williams’ children, with the exception of Hana and Immanuel, had normal growth charts. Both Hana and Immanuel showed weight gains, then dramatic weight loss, Hana being in less than the third percentile for weight at the time of her death. A starving child will do anything to get food, include stealing it. She was hungry, she stole food (junk food), she got caught, she got punished. She was served wet sandwiches and half-frozen food as punishment. Hypothermia was the cause of death, with severe malnutrition/intentional starvation being what is called a “proximate” cause.
Immanuel: The state has charged Larry and Carri with assault of Immanuel, There has to be a pattern of assault that causes bodily harm and physical pain (not temporary or transient, but lasting or repeated pain, similar to torture). Mr. Weyrich reviewed testimony about Immanuel’s being very afraid to make mistakes, and consistently apologizing, though sometimes not knowing why he was apologizing (though likely to keep from being punished again). Larry Williams sprayed Immanuel with a hose outside for peeing himself; Carri and Larry fed him wet sandwiches and other unpalatable (inedible) food. These were patterns. Carri, Larry, and son Joseph hit Immanuel on the soles and top of the feet, so much that it hurt him to walk. Immanuel, Mr. Weyrich argued, had scars on his back that were similar to those on the back of Hana’s legs. Immanuel also spent time in the locked shower room, and of course witnessed the treatment and death of Hana. Immanuel did not have a clinical diagnosis of oppositionality, but of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, based on what happened to him at the Williams’ home.
Accomplices: The state sees Larry and Carri as accomplices in the alleged crimes. Mr. Weyrich noted that Larry, on the witness stand, pointed mostly to Carri as the idea person and the deliverer of punishments. Many of the Williams’ children testified to the same thing. Joseph, for example, said Carri just moved some stuff out of the closet and put Hana in. Joseph also brought meals to Hana in the closet, at his mother’s direction. Larry and Carri talked every day, and Larry was aware of Carri’s plans and systems. They worked together on parenting, and agreed on strategies. There is conflict between Larry and Carri’s testimony as to who shaved Hana’s head (the children testified that Carri did), who installed the outdoor hose, who installed the lock on the closet door, whose idea was the Port-A-Potty. The jury will have to sort that out. Larry said he was responsible and ashamed. He said he stopped hitting Hana in the last few months of Hana’s life, though Carri did not. Carri said Larry wanted peace when he came home. Carri said she would have stopped if Larry had asked. Larry said he asked Carri to stop (to stop the hitting, the outdoor showers, the Port-A-Potty, the closet, the unpalatable food) but Carri didn’t, and Larry didn’t do anything.
These children, said Mr. Weyrich, were beaten with glue sticks, plastic switches, and belts; they were denied food; they were hosed down outside; they were locked in shower rooms and closets. And no one knows why. Look at the evidence, he said to the jury. Both defendants are guilty of all charges.
The trial resumes at 9am, with Carri Williams’ attorney presenting the closing argument for her.