Yesterday I posted a quick update called “September 5–Closing Arguments End, Jury Deliberation Begin.” Click here to read it. The jury deliberated for about an hour yesterday before heading home. They will begin again today (September 6) at 9am pdt. No one knows how long it will take for them to reach a verdict. Some folks have speculated they might wrap up today, since it’s Friday and the trial has been going on for over 6 weeks. Again, no one knows for sure.
Yesterday also KIRO-TV reporter Lee Stoll posted this story; if you want, you can see/hear me in the video.
Here is a more detailed recap of yesterday’s closing argument and the rebuttal. This is, I realize, absurdly long. It’s also the final information about the testimony and the lawyers’ arguments. I’ll still be writing, certainly about the verdict, as well as about positive changes and possibilities that might emerge as part of Hana’s legacy.
Mr. Richards’ Closing Argument
Carri Williams’ lawyer, Skagit County public defender Wes Richards, spent 3 hours reviewing the jury instructions provided by the judge, and relating them to various testimony provided during the trial. His demeanor was very different from that of Larry Williams’ Snohomish County public defender Rachel Forde, who presented closing arguments Thursday. Mr. Richards was low-key and methodical. His approach was to start by acknowledging how sad it is when a young person dies, and how the jury understandably would want to hold someone accountable. The outside shower was humiliating; the Port-a-Potty degrading; the spankings were far too frequent and for petty offenses. The closet was cruel: “What kind of parent does that. It’s just unbelievable.”
Even so, said Mr Richards, the jury must not decide based on emotions, which must be set aside. The jury must decide the case based on the law alone. “You might hate my client,” he said. “You might think she should sleep in a closet, or shower outside.”
However, Hana didn’t die because of the closet, or the showers, or the Port-a-Potty. Immanuel didn’t have bodily injury because of cold showers.
“Carri may be guilty of the abuse she inflicted on the children, but not of the charges the state has brought against her.” (Maureen: And there indeed is the heart of the matter: the jury may despise Carri, but that is irrelevant in the face of whether she and Larry are found guilty or innocent. Will the jury feel that the evidence meets the criteria of homicide by abuse, or manslaughter, in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree?)
For the charge of homicide by abuse, there must be “extreme indifference” on the part of the accused. Carri was not indifferent on the night Hana died, Mr. Richards argued: she asked, told, then begged Hana to come inside. She brought out dry clothes. She kept checking on her.
For the manslaughter charge, the jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Carri knew and also disregarded a substantial risk of death. Carri had no idea of the danger of hypothermia: why would she even suspect that would happen? She didn’t know the symptoms. Carri had testified about Hana’s falling down in the past (saying that Hana told Carri she fell down on purpose), and about Hana in the past dropping her pants in front of the boys. So Carri was relying on previous experience the night Hana died.
Did Carri disregard the risk, even as she didn’t know there was a risk? No. She tried to bring Hana in, and she brought her dry clothes. “Could she have done more? Yes. But she didn’t disregard” the risk. Hana died from hypothermia. Carri didn’t cause her death.
For the third charge of assault against Immanuel, the jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Immanuel suffered serious bodily harm, harm that lasts and is serious, such as a fracture. The evidence, said Mr. Richards, is clear that whatever marks Immanuel may have had on his back occurred in Ethiopia, not in the Williams’ home.
Mr. Richards then began going through the long list of jury instructions, linking them to the testimony from the trial. He began his discussion of Immanuel’s credibility as a witness (witness credibility is one of the many important items the jury must consider). Where Rachel Forde (Larry Williams’ attorney) yesterday called Immanuel a “self-confessed liar” and a “troubled kid,” Mr, Richards suggested that Immanuel’s memories were “confused” and “inconsistent.”
“There’s no reason to think he’s lying,” said Mr Richards, while paging through Immanuel’s testimony. The jury though needs to consider “just how reliable Immanuel is as to the facts.” Mr. Richards cited several examples of Immanuel’s testimony: thinking Hana was the same age as he was, saying that Hana had disappeared though he was at her funeral, saying he’d been hit on the feet and head, but mentioning nothing about being hit on his back, and other examples. “There’s no doubt that Immanuel was abused and mistreated.” Might that cause him to have some bias? To embellish?
Carri Williams, said Mr. Richards, was consistent in all her testimony, from the 911 call to giving her testimony on the stand during this trial. She admitted what she had done in terms of the closet, shower, and Port-a-Potty, in contrast with Larry, who was not consistent and whose testimony was not credible. It was rare that Carri said she didn’t remember, in contrast to Larry.
Mr. Richards then went through the jury instructions further: each juror must decide for him/herself and not be swayed by other jurors. Don’t decide just for the sake of deciding. Remember the state has the burden of proof regarding the charges. You don’t have to accept the opinions of the expert witnesses. Consider what the state did and did not show you. When you decide, you must have “an abiding belief” in your decision, one that lasts long after you leave the courtroom.
Jurors must decide each charge separately, and each defendant’s guilt or innocence separately. Mr. Richards reviewed the notion of accomplice liability, the legal accountability of two people charged for the same offense. Carri never agreed to hitting the children on the back. If Larry did that, Carri didn’t agree to it, and so she is not an accomplice to that.
He reviewed the notion of “extreme indifference to human life,” part of the homicide by abuse charge, arguing that Carri was not at all indifferent to whether Hana lived or died. Carri did not cause Hana’s death. Hana died from hypothermia, and not from starvation or malnutrition (and not from being in a closet, taking showers outside, etc.). “Hana wasn’t outside because my client made her stay out there,” he said: Carri made several efforts to get Hana to come inside.
(In this next section, I got somewhat confused as to Mr. Richards’ arguments regarding Hana’s weight and the issue of starvation.) Malnutrition or starvation was not the cause of Hana’s death, said Mr. Richards. Hana would have died whether she was malnourished or not. He said later Hana would have died even if she weighed more. Hana did not cause her death either .(This has to do with the law about whether a victim had a role in his her/own death.) Hana didn’t know she was at risk for hypothermia. As to Hana’s thinness, it is indisputable that she had lost weight. But there could be other causes besides food restrictions: maybe h. pylori, maybe bulimia, maybe exercise, maybe the lack of junk food. We just don’t know for sure.
As to Hana’s age, Mr. Richards said the jury must carefully consider whether she was 16, since that is the requirement for the homicide by abuse charge. Is it possible that she was 16 or over? Then there is reasonable doubt. (And remember, that is what the defense wants to do: create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors about whether a crime occurred the way the state/prosecutor says it did.) He reviewed the video where Hana said she’s 10 (but may have said that because older children have less chance of being adopted), Carri’s testimony about having told people that she thought Hana was older, the fact of Larry’s filing an age change document because Hana told him she was 16. Mr Richards then did a lengthy review of all the forensic testimony regarding teeth and bone age. (I wrote in my notes that, at this point, few jurors were taking notes, and Carri was writing lots on a yellow legal pad.)
Mr. Richards discussed the manslaughter charge that requires, for conviction, that Carri engaged in reckless conduct, knowing that there is a substantial risk of death. Carri didn’t know there was a substantial risk of death, and did not disregard Hana at that point (the dry clothes, the begging her to come in, the fact that in the past Hana had come inside). For manslaughter in the 2nd degree, the defendant has to engage in criminal negligence, not being aware of the risk of death. Carri’s conduct, said Mr. Richards, was probably closer to negligence than to reckless conduct–“she probably should have known things weren’t good”–but Carri had no reason to think Hana was at risk for death. “It was a spring day in May.”
The other charge is assault of a child (Immanuel), and the jury will have to decide if Carri is guilty of this in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th degree, each of which has different criteria. Mr. Richards said Immanuel’s testimony included a lot of “I don’t knows” in regard to being hit, when it happened, how often. The law requires substantial bodily harm with “greater than transient physical pain.” The evidence doesn’t prove this, Mr. Richards said. The physical degree of pain and harm? That will be up to the jury to decide. Some force may be lawful, and Washington State has parental standards that allow parents to use force to correct or restrain a child, as long as permanent marks are not left on the child.
He finished up (after 3 hours) with a litany of various items: Carri’s father, retired from law enforcement, never saw anything alarming; all the Williams’ kids and Carri herself are thin; the family had a tight food budget ($800 a month, for 11 people); Hana’s injuries on her knees, elbows, and head didn’t contribute to her death; there is no proof that Immanuel did not have the scars on his back when he arrived in the US. He concluded with reminders about the burden of proof and the importance of an abiding belief (per the jury instructions): this is not a decision on which you can change your mind later.
Ms. Kaholokula’s Rebuttal
Rosemary Kaholokula, a prosecutor for Skagit County (representing Hana and Immanuel), began her rebuttal, and Rachel Forde (Larry’s lawyer) objected. Mr. Weyrich (the other prosecutor) had presented the state’s closing augment, and he should present the rebuttal. Overruled. Ms. Forde went on to raise over a dozen objections in the course of the rebuttal, all of which were overruled.
Ms. Kaholokula started with the defense’s criticisms of the credibility of the expert witnesses: they have no motivation for fabrication. Larry and Carri, on the other hand, may have such motivation, and the jury should keep that in mind. Per Mr. Richards, has Carri been entirely consistent? In the 911 call, she said Hana was between 14 and 16, not that she was over 16. Carri’s demeanor during that call should be kept in mind. Did she cry as much during that call as she has during this trial? Remember she said on that call, “I think my daughter killed herself. She’s really rebellious.”
Of Ms. Forde calling Immanuel a “self-professed liar,” Ms. Kaholokula asked what he lied about: peeing on the floor? spilling something on the table? and why would he lie while in the Williams’ home? Because he was afraid of getting beaten. He had no motivation to lie now: he won’t get hurt anymore. There is no evidence that Immanuel is “suggestible,” or has memory problems. She read back the questions that Immanuel was asked during cross-examination, questions with multiple parts, double negatives, and additions at the end such as “isn’t that correct?” That complexity (This isn’t an actual quote, but the questions were something like this: Did you or did you not say that you were not present at the time others were?) might be why Immanuel sometimes seemed confused.
In any case, Ms. Kaholokula said, Immanuel’s testimony was corroborated by the other Williams’ children, as to Immanuel being hit often, with a hand, glue stick, belt, and plumbing line. Larry and Carri corroborated it also, though they were inconsistent about the frequency, duration, and intensity.
As to the scars, Immanuel said no one hit him in Ethiopia. Dr. Clark, the family pediatrician, did not enter anything about scars in Immanuel’s file when Immanuel was first examined early after arrival in the US.
As to accomplice liability, Ms. Kaholokula said, that applies to all charges. Larry and Carri are responsible for each other’s actions, and for their own actions. Larry failed to feed Hana, and it is absurd that he didn’t notice her weight loss. Larry did not make a good faith attempt to help Hana: arguing with one’s spouse is not sufficient action. Even if Carri was ultimately the actor, Larry is still responsible.
There is no evidence that h. pylori, giardia, poisonous plants, malabsorption of nutrients, anorexia/bulimia. or diabetes were the reasons for Hana’s weight loss. “The facts are she was too thin, and the defendants starved her.”
As to “extreme indifference,” Ms. Kaholokula argued, this occurred not just the day Hana died, but over months, if not years. It was all “part of an inexorable chain of events.” Hana was isolated, got no medical care, was barely provided shelter, was fed inedible food, was punished “for no real reasons.” The prosecutor said to the jury, “You wouldn’t treat a dog this way. They took away her dignity, her will, her life.”
As to Ms. Forde’s claim in her closing argument that Hana and Immanuel had mental problems because they were international adoptees: there is nothing on record in this trial about the mental health problems of international adoptees. There is nothing about either Hana or Immanuel having mental problems. “Problems of some sort arose one and a half years after their arrival. Hana had been fine before then.” Couldn’t it be, Ms. Kaholokula argued, that problems arose from the treatment of Hana and Immanuel by Larry and Carri Williams?
The evidence shows that Hana’s death occurred at the hands of these two defendants. If not for them, Hana would still be alive, Ms. Kaholokula said. She noted , as Mr. Richards had, the importance of the abiding belief jurors must have in their decision. Hana and Immanuel came to America hopeful, seeming to join the family of their dreams. Something went really wrong, and the dream ended with Hana alone, degraded, cold: she died, alone. There’s always an excuse, never a justification She was rebellious, Oppositional, Dirty. She didn’t fit in. She had to leave.
And with that, the case went to the jury.