September 5: More Detail on Closing Arguments

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.

17 thoughts on “September 5: More Detail on Closing Arguments

  1. Pingback: Hana Williams Trial Verdict: Guilty

  2. Pingback: Justice for Hana and Immanuel — Religious Child Maltreatment

  3. I would not be surprised if, after the trial and regardless of the verdict, all adoption documents in relation to Immanuel are reviewed thoroughly. If the WIlliamses lied about anything (especially given all that Larry and Carri admitted to, under oath, on the stand), perhaps Immanuel will be entitled to receive compensation.

  4. The age thing seems arbitrary but I can see how in a normal situation it would be more relevant. A two year old toddler can be abused to death whereas a 16 junior in public high school has more options. Hana was a captive, just like the women held by Ariel Castro, were captive. She was geographically isolated and mentally isolated. I am trusting that the prosecutors considered all charges but perhaps they missed some. If the Williams’s were beating up a sixteen year old that should be an assault not “spanking” or “discipline”. What the sons did and what Carri asked the sons to do and what she and Larry did, should have been considered a sexual assault.

    I found Rachel Forde unlikeable also, but I agree, defense attorneys have to believe in the system and a right to vigorous defense even for monsters.

    This case highlights the fact that some laws are not there that should be. Corporal punishment should not include spanking on one’s head, feet or a person over a certain age. It should be criminal to isolate a child and to not provide significant opportunities for interaction with unrelated people of the same age group. Most parents meet this requirement by sending their children to public school. Homeschooling parents should have to affirmatively show that their children are not isolated. The department of health should issue warnings on applying the advice in Christian baby beating books.

    • We are in the process of a homestudy for domestic infant adoption. Corporal punishment for adopted children is against the law in both our agency’s state and our home state. Twice we have signed documents attesting that we will not use any form of corporal punishment. Twice social workers have asked us what kinds of discipline we plan to use in lieu of corporal punishment. In reading about this case, I was actually surprised that WA permits it. It seems like there is such a huge potential for abuse.

      I do hope that this case results in the changes to the laws that you describe here.

      • I’m surprised Washington State allows corporal punishment as described in the trial. Basically all’s fair as long as the punishment doesn’t permanently cripple the person. Creating a lifetime of PTSD and mental health problems are no problem. The plumbing line glue stick “spanking” does do tissue damage and has caused renal failure and atrophy of muscles in several cases. Who knows what lifetime organ damage these kids will suffer from.

        I think the adoption application did come up in the trial. I don’t recall, but it’s possible they lied on the application. The baby beating books caution parents to hide this behavior and not let other church members or grandparents see or hear the spankings lest they try to intervene or report the abuse. The Williams’s and others like them find church to be too worldly at some point and they “home church” along with the homeschooling.

    • In her adoption application for Hana and Immanuel, Carri Williams wrote that she did NOT spank her biological children. Carri lied on the adoption application because she knew that she wouldn’t be allowed to adopt children if she answered honestly about her way of treating children. (See this KIRO article – “Kaholokula showed Carri her application to adopt Hana and Immanuel from Ethiopia. The couple never mentioned striking their own 7-children as discipline. “The reason why you wouldn’t want to put it in there is because you might not get the child. Is that right?” said Kaholokula. “No, I put it in there,” said Williams.”)

      The fact that Carri admits to feeding Hana and Immanuel sopping wet sandwiches and uncooked frozen food should be enough to be convicted of child abuse.

      • Thank you for that link. I don’t understand why the prosecutor didn’t say “can you show me where?” after Carri said it was in there. Hopefully the jury will focus on that. It’s a written document. It’s either in there or it isn’t.

      • I suppose someone can always lie about their intentions regardless of what the law says, but I can’t help but feel their social worker was extraordinarily clueless and/or sloppy. It’s hard to lie if someone asks, “how do you plan to discipline your child?” If you know nothing about non-violent discipline.

        Whom did they use for their unrelated references on their home study? How can they sleep at night knowing what happened?

  5. I just don’t understand why age matters at all in this case. I know there’s a legal distinction between homicide and manslaughter, but would a Hana a week or two past her 16th birthday have been any more able to defend herself against these people? Any more able to leave? Could she drive? Ask for help from friends or authority figures outside the family? Buy food or cook for herself? You get the idea. In any case, the Williams “parented” her thinking that she was under 16, until they had their own reasons for choosing to believe that she was older. I know it’s the law, but it’s a dumb law that suggests the life of a 15 year old is worth more than the life of a 16 year old.

    I’ve seen a lot of hate against the defense attorneys, especially LW’s. I would remember that these are public defenders. They aren’t defending the Williams because they are making money, or getting a kick out of doing so. Public defenders are low paid and have to take the cases they are assigned. In the case of LW’s attorney, I’m actually wondering if she’s all that competent. Her arguments (There are tons of celebrities who have collar bones sticking out! Maybe Hana ate a poisoned plant!) were ridiculous. The lengthy, aggressive cross-examination of a deaf child struggling with PTSD made the defense teams look like bad guys and could cause the jury to sympathize with the victims and not with the defendants. And then there’s the whole fact that LW and CW testified at all. I actually began to wonder if they were doing such a bad job on purpose.

    Ms. K did a great job with the rebuttal. I had also thought that the fact that Hana’s “behavior” problems arose at the same time the abuse started suggested that the abuse had caused her personality to change. And why wouldn’t it? I’m so glad she took down the defense teams groundless speculation about Hana and Immanuel’s mental health.

    Her closing made me cry. Cold, alone, degraded, indeed.

    • When frustrated by the defense attorneys insinuations, I’ve also reminded myself that even the Williamses are entitled by law to a vigorous defense. If it looks as though their attorneys were holding back or leaving avenues unexplored, they might have grounds for an appeal and Immanuel and the other children could be forced to go through it all again.

      • The homicide by abuse charge for children under age 16 is, I believe, fairly new in Washington state. There is not much case law on it. So this could be a groundbreaking case for it. In any event. I am guessing that legislators will take a look at the age requirement closely, and see if it really fits what they had in mind.

        As to the defense attorneys, their job was to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. If it were my loved ones who were defendants, I’d want the best possible defense. That said, I hope nothing so much as justice for Hana and Immanuel.

  6. Reading these blog entries have stirred so many emotions in me, tears, anger and sadness. It’s so hard realize other human beings could treat another like this. Thank you so much for covering this trial and sharing details that werent included in two minute news stories. it’s such a heartbreaking case. Hoping the jury gives Hana and Immanuel justice.Heartless the Williames treated her in all the worst ways for so long. I’m still hoping more charges can be filed against the extended family that was at the house and turned a blind eye, such as EVIL George Miller who advised the about the age issue in law and also that horribly obese Charlotte Miller supplied them with a larger switch. Truley disgusting humans!!

  7. Maureen, you have done a spectacular job of tracking and reporting the details of this case in a way that the mainstream media simply cannot do because they lack adoption experience and knowledge. Thank you.

    Yes, I hope the jury understands the importance of their verdict, and that justice is served for Hana and Immanuel.

  8. Pingback: The Williams Trial – Day 27: Closing Arguments End, Jury Deliberation Starts | Why Not Train A Child?

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