September 4: Part 2, Jury Instructions and Closing Arguments

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of the September 4 events at the trial of Larry and Carri Williams. You can click here to read it.

Here’s Part 2.

The Opening Conversation

Rachel Forde, one of two Snohomish County public defenders for Larry Williams, began and ended her presentation by sitting on a chair across from the jury, pretending she was driving, doing a vivid re-enactment of Larry Williams’ two phone calls with Carri on the night Hana died. It took me (and I’d guess others) a moment to figure out what she was doing. With one hand on the imaginary steering wheel, she voiced what may have been going on in Larry Williams’ head that night he drove home around midnight, May 11 2012. Ms. Forde started with a stream of consciousness approach (Maureen: This is not verbatim, but it’s not too far off from what she was doing, providing an image of her client that night): Long day, working second shift. I’m gone from home noon to midnight, and missing out on so many things. Carri’s dealings with a lot with Hana and Immanuel. They seemed so happy when they got here. How did things go so wrong?

Things started to change though. Things need to change now. We’re arguing more, and the kids are hearing us argue. Carri and I aren’t on the same page. After the spanking argument, we agreed spanking does;t work. The other things–the closet, the Port-a-Potty, the outside meals, the outside showers–they have to stop too.

But who am I to tell Carri what to do, when she’s the one with the kids all day? Every time I bring it up, it doesn’t work. We’ll have a fight, but things have got to change.

(Then the imaginary cell phone rang.) Hi Carri. What? Hana’s throwing herself down again? Are you sure it’s on purpose? Ok, I know, I know–you’re the one there all day. Ok, I’ll be home soon.

The Middle of the Closing Argument

Ms. Forde then began a more traditional closing argument by saying that the jury is not there to judge whether Larry Williams was a good parents. He has admitted to making mistakes, and it is not the jury’s job to put a stamp of approval or rejection on his parenting techniques. This is not a moral or emotional judgment. The jury must determine if a crime was committed, beyond a reasonable doubt. She provided a graphic with a staircase showing the journey from “No Evidence” right up to “Reasonable doubt” (with “Probable Cause” and “Clear and Convincing” among others on the way) that ends with Guilty at the top.

She was, as she has been throughout the trial, an assertive speaker about her client’s role. The state (the prosecution), she noted, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all elements of the crime occurred. Did Larry cause Hana’s death that night? Did he cause the hypothermia which was “the purported cause” of Hana’s death? No. He wasn’t home that entire day. He had no part in her death by hypothermia.

She spent time refuting the claim of whether Hana died from hypothermia, reviewing one witness (Dr. Tomlinson) who was surprised to hear that was the coroner’s diagnosis, and another (Dr. Selove) who didn’t find certain signs of hypothermia at Hana’s autopsy (ridged fingernails, I think, was the issue). Remember: her job as a defense attorney is to create reasonable doubt about the various testimony and evidence. For example, of Hana’s paradoxical undressing, one of the signs of someone undergoing hypothermia, Ms. Forde said Hana may have been undressing because Carri had told her to do so.

Ms. Forde then went through the issue of whether Hana was malnourished (the plot points on the doctor’s growth charts were based on unreliable data), and on whether Hana weighed 78 pound at the time of death ( someone at the coroner’s office weighed her on a bathroom scale “like you get at Wal-Mart”); the doctor doing the autopsy “couldn’t be bothered” to go use a special hospital bed-scale that would have been calibrated.

She talked about Hana’s appearance at the autopsy, how 20/20 hindsight might make us see Hana then as thin. Of subcutaneous fat that people lose in cases of malnutrition: the doctor could have used calipers to see if it was really fat and not muscle on Hana’s “significant buttocks,” as she put it while the autopsy photo was shown on a large screen. Of protruding collar bones: we see those in People magazine all the time, and it doesn’t mean people are about to die.

Ms. Forde spent much time naming Carri as the power in the house around food, quoting testimony of the Williams’ children (Maureen: This added such an element of poignancy, that the children are providing testimony for their mother and father’s potential conviction. Regardless of the final verdict, those children have been through so much, and the impact of all this will linger for so many years.) that it was Mom’s Rules: You eat what I put in front of you. The children testified, Ms. Forde pointed out, that (according to daughter Cara) it was Carri who shaved Hana’s head (Carri said it was Larry.) Son Jacob said it was Carri who did that as a form of punishment for Hana. It was Carri who decided on the Port-a-Potty. It was Carri’s idea to build the outdoor shower. It was Carri who knew all about the bedding that Hana and Immanuel had in the barn, the shower room, and the closet. Cara said Mom played music for Hana in the closet. Jacob said Mom would decide when to put Hana in the closet. Daughter Sara said that Hana had to go to the barn because Mom told her to.

And this explains, Ms. Forde said, why when Larry was on the stand, he knew so few details about all these events and punishments. He simply didn’t know all that was going on. Jacob testified that Carri wanted to create a peaceful home for Larry.

Starvation: Ms. Forde argued that starving children will eat anything (based on something an expert witness had said about how starving children will chew on even cardboard or other items just to chew and get something in their stomachs.) If Hana and Immanuel were really starving, they’d have eaten the wet peanut butter sandwiches. What other explanation could there be then for the weight loss and death? Maybe bulimia, maybe from consuming a poisonous plant outside, maybe diabetes ketosis. Or maybe after the weight gain in 2009, Hana “was just normalizing.”

Immanuel: Ms. Forde was clear in stating that Immanuel was a “self-confessed liar,” “a troubled child.” She said he was “suggestible.” You can feel sorry for Immanuel, she told the jury, but Immanuel demonstrated with nonchalance and in a cavalier way that he’s a liar, and thus cannot be believed.

Hana’s age: The state has not demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that Hana was under 16, according to Ms. Forde, who reviewed the expert witnesses’ testimony and credentials.

Larry just didn’t know all that was going on, Ms. Forde said several times. “The evidence is overwhelming,” she said, that “Carri Williams designed, planned, and implemented” all that happened in their home. Larry was head of the household in name only, and the balance had shifted the last 6 months of Hana’s life. Larry was indeed a caring father: he argued with Carri about needing to change the disciplinary structure, he consulted his brother-in-law for advice, and he wanted the punishments to stop. “Could he have done more? Of course.”

Conclusion of the Argument

Why did this happen? Because Larry and Carri were unprepared, said Ms. Forde. 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. Larry, in any case, cannot be convicted because he had nothing to do with Hana’s death that night, and was unaware of how much was actually going on in the home.

Ms. Forde then sat down again in the chair across from the jury, as she had when she started her closing argument. She now re-enacted the second phone call from Carri, which happened after Hana had been brought into the house, unresponsive and naked. “What? She’s not breathing? Call 911!” Then Ms. Forde said loudly, “No! No! No!” and concluded her argument.

The trial begins today at 9am with the closing argument of Carri Williams’ defense attorney, followed by rebuttal by the prosecution. Then the case goes to the jury, and no one knows how long they will deliberate.

5 thoughts on “September 4: Part 2, Jury Instructions and Closing Arguments

  1. Thank you for covering this trial so thoroughly. I’m the adoptive mother of one son from Ethiopia,and we’re in the process of adopting another. We had an all-day home visit from our agency a month ago, and another one in two weeks. I cannot understand how these people made it through the type of scrutiny we’re going through. Which, by the way, is TOTALLY APPROPRIATE.

  2. I have read that Hana had h.pylori. If this is so, then no wonder she couldn’t/wouldn’t eat! ANything you eay=t and drink gives you heartburn. Including water! And it’s treatable with a combo of anti-biotics, which the Williams’ apparently declined to seek. So sad for this young girl, to ne placed with mosters. I hope the jury does the right thing.

  3. So heart wrenching and stomach turning what these people did, and then to waste all the taxpayers money with this long drawn out trial on these obviously guilty people. I hope federal state laws are enacted to monitor adoptions and also change some of these laws so there isn’t that much time wasted deciding on age. I’m wondering why they didn’t rule on the age before the trial. Stuff like all the testimonies over the age of an under 18 child and also the way they treated the child on the witness stand like that should have never been done by Public Defenders!! I thought they were private lawyers til today. Such a shame our tax money paid for crap like that since it is pretty clear these people were guilty. Sad case!

  4. Pingback: The Williams Trial – Day 26: Closing Arguments | Why Not Train A Child?

  5. Is anyone else floored by Ms. Forde’s immature loathing of Immanuel as if he’s her equal? self-confessed liar? She sounds like she’s speaking of an adult. Never mind that all the other children said the exact same thing as Immanuel.

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