After the Sentencing: Larry and Carri Williams, the Adoption Agency, the Children

I’ve written a lot about Larry and Carri Williams, about the murder and assault charges against them, about the 7 week trial, and about their sentencing hearing October 29. This may well be my last post about them, though I will continue to write about adoption reform.

Gina Cole, a reporter for the Skagit Valley Herald, covered the trial from the first day of jury selection. She’s done a great job. Follow her on Facebook. Her most recent article, “Decades in Prison for Williams Couple,” is available here.

Here’s an excerpt from Gina’s article:

Tuesday’s (October 29, 2013) sentencing hearing was a chance for the public to help argue for a harsher or lighter sentence. A few people addressed Cook in person; others, including the two oldest Williams sons, submitted letters.

“This incident regarding (the adopted children) was the result of the total unpreparedness of my parents to take in two children who were entirely unfamiliar with our nation, culture and way of life,” wrote Joshua Williams, who is stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. He pleaded with the court to reunite his family. “… Is it not punishment enough to watch helplessly as your entire life crashes down around you?”

Joshua’s plea, arguing that his parents were totally unprepared, is haunting. (Referring to the abuse, torture, assault of Immanuel and death of Hana–Joshua’s siblings–as “this incident” startling as well.) Did the adoption agency, Adoption Advocates International of Port Angeles, WA, fail to educate Larry and Carri fully about the possible challenges of international adoption? AAI is licensed in Washington state, is a member of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Hague Convention adoption. That COA accreditation is time-consuming and expensive; it is supposed to be rigorous and thorough. There is a place for public comment on the COA link above.

A lot of people have asked if the adoption agency was punished as well in this case. My understanding is that there is no legal reason or process for that. Hana and Immanuel’s adoptions were finalized–they were the full legal children of Larry and Carri Williams. As such, the adoption agency no longer had any legal responsibility for them. Larry and Carri, like any other adoptive family, did not have to talk with or answer to the agency after finalization.

Once the adoption is finalized, and the long process is over with, most families want to be treated like other families, without intrusive oversight or invasions of their privacy. For most families, that works, because they aren’t abusive.

In the case of Larry and Carri Williams, we may never know why they did not seek help when things started going so badly. Did the agency not make the case effectively for parents to call on them for post-adoption services? Did the Williamses make a conscious decision not to interact with other adoptive families or with the Ethiopian community, who might have been resources for them, Hana, and Immanuel? Was the AAI preparation process rigorous enough? Did the Williamses’ isolation as a home-schooling family mean they did not want to reach out for help?

So many questions. My hope is that, while the adoption agency does not face legal recriminations for the placement, that all international agencies will look long and hard at their screening of prospective adoptive parents, at having a rigorous pre-adoption education program, and at working as diligently as possible to encourage parents to get post-adoption help without shame or difficulty.

In response to Joshua Williams’ plea, Gina Cole notes, in her article, the judge’s response:

Judge Susan Cook saw it differently.

The Williamses’ track record, she said, was this: one child dead, one with PTSD, and seven who thought the kind of degrading treatment the other two endured was acceptable.

A tragedy all around.

Carri Williams is now in the Washington Corrections Center for Women, in Gig Harbor, Washington, about 115 miles from her Sedro-Woolley home. She is Department of Corrections Inmate 370021. Larry Williams is in the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Washington, about 150 miles from Sedro-Woolley. He is DOC Inmate 370101. Both have indicated intent to file appeals. Unless they can make bail, both will remain in jail as their appeals go through the legal process. Carri’s bail is set at $1.5 million; Larry’s at $750,000.

I have heard via the Facebook page Remembrance of Hana Williams that the parental rights of Larry and Carri Williams were terminated for Immanuel. I haven’t seen it verified anywhere else, but I believe it to be accurate. I wish Immanuel good things in his future: healing, strength, safety. He struck me during the trial as a remarkably resilient young man.

I posted yesterday about Hana’s Fund, Hana’s Grave Marker. May we keep Hana and Immanuel always in our hearts.

16 thoughts on “After the Sentencing: Larry and Carri Williams, the Adoption Agency, the Children

  1. Pingback: Update on Kristen Barbour and Carri Williams | Light of Day Stories

    • Becky, thanks for this recent article about Gay Knutson, social worker for Adoption Advocates International, the agency used by the Williamses. Interesting that there is no mention of the Williams’ trial.

  2. You know, I am not totally convinced about the agencies complicity in this side of things. I adopted from Tanzania independently while living there, but AAI provided me support and I was on their AAI Ethiopia yahoo list serve. They did require all the training hours on older adoptions and cultural issue surrounding adoptions in their pre-adoption process. And, everyone who was on that board, which you join when you sign with the agency to begin the adoption process, was very well aware of the issues which can come up, especially in older child adoptions and with the difficult decision which some families have to make surrounding disruptions etc. AAI assisted in these disruptions and provided support to families which were struggling. I am not convinced that the agency didn’t do what it was REQUIRED to do in terms of preparation (though I do agree that a more stringent preparation program should be put in place). This didn’t happen because those parents weren’t prepared to handle the situation, this happened because those parents should not have been parenting….period. I think that the home study process might need to be looked at and where I really think the breakdown happened is in the post placement experience. Post placement reports are often not followed up on, but more importantly they do not provide what is really needed. In this case, those children went under the radar for abuse because no one in any sort of position to assess what was happening and intervene had access. They were homeschooled, lived in a rural situation where there were not close neighbors and hadn’t seen a doctor in an extremely long time. I really believe that more stringent legal requirements should be on adoptive parents (and I am one….who since I adopted independently from Tanzania and have no ties to any agency have zero accountability to any legal entity, which is frightening.) My children are in schools, activities, play groups, we have become close with a Tanzanian community in a neighboring community, Swahili lessons etc but I would be more than happy to have further legal requirements imposed on us in terms of a regular 6 month doctor visit for the first 5 years which had paperwork reports attached which were then forwarded to an assigned social worker etc etc etc….in order to ensure that all adoptive children are in safe spaces…or at least help in the screening process. I have wanted so desperately, since I heard of this case and began following it, thinking about the situation, seeing beautiful Hanna’s haunting smile in my mind etc., to think of how to lobby for stronger legislation in this area. And although I am a human rights lawyer, and I worked for four years in DC on strengthening legislation for women’s health, I honestly don’t really know how to go about the process of trying to build support for a legislator to take up legislation on this matter. But, I so so believe that we owe it to these children to try to put systems in place to protect them better.

    • “This didn’t happen because those parents weren’t prepared to handle the situation, this happened because those parents should not have been parenting….period.”

      I agree with you! There wqas just a case in Kitsap County where a husband and wife pled guilty to torture and abuse of his 13 year old brother. They were fostering him. Some of the things that they did were similar to what the Williamses did. The litle brother escaped and was picked up by the sheriff’s department who arrested the couple. They should never had been parenting. They should not had control over another human being. Just like the Carri and Larry Williams. Fortunately, this child didn’t die, and the culprits plead guilty.The sentencing is next week. Some people should not be parenting. Unfortunately, sometimes, you can’t see that until it’s too late.

  3. Does anyone know if the Williams’s were offered a plea bargain. If they were, they gambled and lost big time. The Schatz’s plead guilty and accepted a plea bargain, 22 years for the father and 13 years for the mother. The horrendous years prior to Lydia’s death were similar but that actual death blows were more brutal.

    Letters and testimony of the convicted should have their stories vetted by someone with marketing or other interpersonal expertise, to make sure the letter actually helps and doesn’t horrify the judge.

    • I’ve had my doubts about the competence of the Williams’ public defenders all along. As you said in a previous comment on this blog, the judge may have been more inclined to throw the book at Larry and Carri because of those letters and witnesses.

  4. I read somewhere their pastor’s views on the Williams – he did not seem too concerned with the way they were raising children. I would hope that he does not advocate Pearl’s book and ideology. What is the rest of this congregation doing to their children? Their religious views are very dangerous!

    Hopefully the relatives that are now raising these children are not of the same faith! I realize these two were certainly nutcases but there are a lot of people that believe the same thing albeit not to this abusive extent!

  5. Wow, Joshua Williams’ letter reveals the same kind of narcissism and victim-blaming that Carri Williams displayed on the stand. He really thinks that Hanna died and Immanuel was abused because the children were “unfamiliar….with our way of life”? Throughout this trial, I have been uncomfortable with the implication that Hanna and Immanuel were having adjustment or attachment issues. There’s simply no evidence of that, other than the Williams’ story about the menstrual blood. And since it seems that both lied during the trial, I see no reason to believe it.

    Would Hanna and Immanuel have escaped abuse if they had not been international adoptees? What if they had been adopted from the foster care system? I don’t think the end result would have been any different, sadly.

    • Sarah, I agree with what you say here. I can’t see any way that the Williams home could ever have been an appropriate place for any child to grow up. The sad proof is Joshua’s lack of realization of what his parents have really done.
      Poor kids! All of them…..

  6. ” Is it not punishment enough to watch helplessly as your entire life crashes down around you?””

    I hope that someday, he an come to terms with, and fully understand, why they were sent to prison. I am sad for him and his siblings that their life is turned upside down through no fault of their own. But If those two had been allowed to suffer few or no consequences, that would have been a miscarriage of justice.

    Having said that, I do hope that the adoption agecies will find a way to better address adoption across international lines, and cultural lines. There are children who do need homes, and their are good people waiting to give them a home. And if they can be brought to an understanding that the Williams’ never had, about cultural differences, maybe this tragedy will have meaning.

  7. Thanks for all your work on the adoption issues that surround this case!

    I do think this family was an aberration, hopefully in the minority, where the difference between right and wrong was very skewed. Friends of the Williams parents stood by them as being “pure” and wonderful parents, etc and I would think they are referring to their theological adherence and teaching the children to be faithful as well. But, alongside that, unfortunately, the biological children were also brainwashed and taught a very twisted and dangerous (to themselves and others) value system in which cruel actions are okay because you are a faithful follwer. A telling illustration is the playing of Christian music while Hana was locked up in the closet crying–the parents did not concern themselves with her suffering or their own cruel behavior–they thought they are right and the playing of Christian music worked to emphasize their rightness and make the whole family think they are doing the right thing. It also probably made it so her crying was not as easy to hear. One of the boys also testified that when Hana was falling down and stumbling on the fatal night, she looked like she was possessed. She had been labeled by that family to the point that even when she was dying, they did not see anything but the worst religious take on that situation. Actually I think that they thought that as long as they are faithful believers/followers, anything they do is okay. And of course, they had Michael Pearl’s book to help them. I was never clear whether Hana and Immanuel were raised Christian in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, one of these parents’ greatest crimes in my opinion, is the raising of 6 children who think like their parents and who could potentially become abusers as adults because they see nothing wrong with what their parents were doing. In the end, they said that their methods were not working–the question is what were they actually trying to accomplish? One of the boys testified that he thought his parents were trying to get Hana to “think differently” which would lead one to guess that they wanted her to be more Christian? If it was complete obedience, from their point of view, any miniscule thing could be interpreted as disobedience, so impossible for the children to achieve. I do think that Larry Williams realizes that this was all very wrong–he admitted shame, regret and placed blame, which shows that he knows it was not right. On some lesser level, Carri also knows that she was doing wrong because she asked the children to hide information and also tried to control what the children divulged to authorities. But I also believe that Carri is still stuck in her belief that she could do no wrong because she is faithful. My guess is that she will have to change a lot to come to the point where she takes responsibility for behavior, which ironically enough, was very un-Christian.

    • “Nevertheless, one of these parents’ greatest crimes in my opinion, is the raising of 6 children who think like their parents and who could potentially become abusers as adults because they see nothing wrong with what their parents were doing.”

      Exactly. This is one reason why it was so important that Larry and Carri received long sentences. I too hope that one day, their bio-children learn that this kind of abuse was wrong, and that they can come to terms with their participation in it.

      • How old are the surviving Williams children? I believe I was told they were going to be living with relatives and raised by them. I can only hope all the proper screening has been done on the people who will be raising them and that there will be some supervised effort to deprogram them from what they learned was their “way of life”.

  8. Thank you so much for your excellent coverage of this case. Do you know whether or not the children will be allowed to visit either parent at their incarceration facilities? I’m wondering what “healing” is going to look like for them.

    • I am sure it will be a long road. My understanding is that the 5 minor (biological) children are now living with family members. I believe that there wouldn’t be any legal reason for them, and the 2 older sons, not to visit their parents in prison. The distance from Sedro-Wollley, their hometown, will be a factor: 150 miles each way to their mother’s jail, the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, south of Seattle. The website of the prison provides information about friends and families visiting. I would hope there is a lot of support and preparation given to all the children for the visits and for their healing.

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