Legal News in Williams’ Trial

A brief legal update:

The sentencing date for Larry and Carri Williams has been changed from October 8 to October 29 (at 9:30am), according to the Skagit Valley Herald.

Larry and Carri Williams were both found guilty of first degree assault against their adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel. Carri was found guilty of both homicide by abuse and of manslaughter in the death of adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana Alemu Williams. Larry Williams was found guilty of manslaughter in Hana’s death, but the jury deadlocked on the homicide by abuse charge against him.

Both could face life sentences in jail, according to an earlier Skagit Valley Herald article. The prosecutor is recommending 27 to 37 years in jail for Carri Williams, and 14 to 17 years for Larry Williams.

The Skagit County prosecutor has now dropped the homicide by abuse charge against Larry, and will likely not retry him on that charge.

Reporter Gina Cole’s Skagit Valley article, “Prosecutors drop homicide-by-abuse charge against Larry Williams,” can be found here. The article does not say why the sentencing date was changed.

Interest remains in acquiring and installing an appropriate headstone for Hana’s grave, but I have not heard of any final decisions. I know she remains in our hearts, as does Immanuel.

Marker at Hana's grave

Marker at Hana’s grave

David Guterson’s Op-Ed on Revamping WA State Adoption Laws

David Guterson is well-known for his books, such as Snow Falling on Cedars. He lives on Bainbridge Island, a quick ferry ride from Seattle, with his family. Like me, he is an adoptive parent, and has followed the Larry and Carri Williams’ case closely.

Today’s Seattle Times (September 12) included this op-ed by David, urging an overhaul of Washington State adoption laws.

David writes that “efforts at adoption reform should focus on vetting prospective adoptive parents and on insuring that children are not placed in homes where they will be abused. Current preplacement and home-study practices don’t work.

After Larry Williams was convicted, his attorneys stated that he was ‘naive and unprepared to deal with’ the challenges inherent in the adoptions he had undertaken. It is exactly that sort of naiveté and lack of preparation we must address through legislation. The time for reform has come.”

I testified earlier this year in Olympia on behalf of HB 1675, a bill David cites in his op-ed, to bring about some of the changes needed in terms of preparation and home study requirements. Information about the bill is available in my post here, “In Remembrance of Hana.” David also notes in the op-ed that the bill, unfortunately, went nowhere.

Here’s hoping that the Washington State legislature will be more open and brave in bringing about much-needed changes to protect children.

I also hope the voices of adult Ethiopian adoptees will be an important part of the legislation and the reform process.

As I wrote in my post Hana’s Legacy, strong, meaningful adoption policy reform would be a long-lasting tribute to her brief but valuable life.

Larry and Carri Williams to Be Sentenced October 8

Note: The sentencing date has been changed to October 29. Read more here.


Gina Cole, the wonderful Skagit Valley Herald reporter, has posted this article: “Williams couple to be sentenced Oct. 8.”

Larry and Carri Williams were found guilty of manslaughter and of homicide by abuse respectively for the death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana, and for first degree assault of their adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel. I wrote about the verdict here.

In her article today, Gina writes:

Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and/or a $50,000 fine for each offense. Prosecutor Rich Weyrich and deputy prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula are recommending about 14 to 18 years for Larry Williams and about 27 to 37 years for Carri Williams. Larry Williams spent almost two years in jail while the case was pending and could get credit for serving that time.

Judge Susan Cook has final say on sentencing.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 9:30am October 8, in Skagit County Superior Court.  I plan to attend.

Williams Trial Verdict Is In: Justice for Hana and Immanuel

Larry Williams:

  • No verdict on Homicide by abuse (jury unable to agree)
  • Guilty of Manslaughter in the 1st degree
  • Guilty of Assault of a Child in the 1st degree

Carri Williams:

  • Guilty of Homicide by Abuse
  • Guilty of Manslaughter in the 1st degree
  • Guilty of Assault of a Child in the 1st degree


The jury has been excused. Carri Williams has been taken into custody, and held on $1.5 million bail, awaiting sentencing. Larry will likely remain in custody, pending sentencing. Larry’s bail is set at $750,000. Sentencing is expected to take place in early October.

As to the Williams’ children, my guess is that (with the exception of Immanuel) there will be Dependency Court hearings to determine which children will go with which relatives, since both parents will be in jail, likely for decades. My guess is that parental rights will be terminated in regard to Immanuel, who could then be adopted by another family.



Hana’s Legacy

Hana Alemu Befekadu arrived in the US from Ethiopia In August 2008. About 2 and a half years later, she died, in May 2011. Her adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams were charged in her murder, and for the assault of Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child adopted by the Williamses, in October 2011. Now, almost 2 years later, we are awaiting a decision by the jury as to the Williamses’ guilt or innocence.

There has been great interest in the trial, certainly by people in the international adoption community (adoptive parents, adoptees, and first/birth families around the world), the deaf community, and the Ethiopian community (here in Washington state, as well as across the US and of course in Ethiopia). I’ve met many survivors of child abuse and domestic violence (some related to religious teachings, some not at all) while covering this trial: their hearts are surely with Hana and Immanuel as well. Many people have no particular connection to the details of the case, but they are horrified and saddened by what happened to Hana and Immanuel.

All this connection is wonderful, and serves to honor the memory of Hana. Once the verdict is reached (and I so hope genuine justice is achieved for Hana and Immanuel), what then? The press coverage will stop, and people will move on to other events and news. That’s simply life.

That said, I feel there are other, potentially lasting and valuable changes that will occur as a result of the way Hana and Immanuel have affected people.

The Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle will continue its great work on Hana’s Fund. There is talk of installing a headstone on Hana’s grave in Sedro-Woolley (there are a number of legal issues around doing that which must first be sorted out.) There are Facebook groups dedicated to Hana, and also to bringing about changes in the adoption process. The state of Washington wrote the Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report, which discusses not only Hana but other children who have suffered horrific abuse at the hands of their adoptive parents. I hope that work will continue on implementing this report’s solid, thoughtful, appropriate recommendations that could definitely improve the adoption process.

There will likely be many articles and books written about the trial, Hana, Immanuel, Larry and Carri Williams. I have written a lot about this trial, thousands and thousands of words. I very much appreciate all of those of you who have read my posts, who have commented thoughtfully, and who have thanked me for writing. My blog has had over 55,000 views since the trial began. That’s pretty amazing. Hana has reached the hearts of so many people.

I’ve decided to write a book, not so much about the trial or about Ethiopian adoption as about why pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption resources are so important. I have a featured article in this month’s issue of Gazillion Voices, an adoptee-led, on-line, provocative, compelling magazine. My article is called “Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents: An International Manifesto.” I had written here in my blog about these unenforceable and necessary standards.

In my book, I will weave the need for better preparation and more post-adopt resources with stories of adoptive parents and, more importantly, with the stories of adoptees and of first/birth parents. My dream is to create a book that honors the experiences of adoptees, including Hana and Immanuel, as well as those adoptees who have had joy and love in their lives, though that may well have been accompanied by loss and grief. I can write only from the perspective of an adoptive parent, one who loves her children beyond words, and one who has (literally) embraced her daughter’s Ethiopian family members, on Ethiopian and American soil.

Wednesday, September 11, is the Ethiopian New Year. Happy 2006! (The Ethiopian calendar is different from our western one.) Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was just celebrated. Happy 5774! I’m neither Ethiopian nor Jewish, but I revel in the idea of thoughtfully reflecting on past events (recalling joys, not forgetting tragedies), and of moving toward new possibilities and renewed hope. And that, I believe, is also part of Hana’s legacy.

Hana Alemu (Williams) Hana Alemu (Williams)

Real-Time Updates on the Williams’ Trial

Good sources on Twitter for real-time updates:

@EricWilkinson    He’s a reporter for KING 5 news in Seattle.

@Gina_SVH    Gina Cole is a reporter for the Skagit Valley Herald, and been following the trial since jury selection.

@LeeStoll     She is a reporter for KIRO-TV in Seattle.

Follow updates at #WilliamsTrial.

News this morning: A juror declined to be presiding juror because his wife works for the prosecutor’s office.  The defense asked for him to be dismissed, and he has been excused from the trial. One of the 2 remaining alternates will be called back. The jury now has to start deliberations over, with the new juror, after about 3 hours of work. The defense is not asking for a mistrial.

The jury asked to hear Carri’s 911 call on the night Hana died.

Maureen: I feel pretty sure that the excused juror has disclosed this at the time of selection, though I’m not certain.  Seems it would have come up then.

I’m getting my information from the tweets. Twitter may be the best way to get real-time information. 

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.

September 5: Closing Arguments End, Jury Deliberation Begins

A quick update, with more details later:

Wes Richards, the Skagit County public defender representing Carri Williams, spent 3 hours this morning talking about jury instructions and his client’s innocence. Rosemary Kaholokula, the Skagit County prosecutor on behalf of Hana and Immanuel Williams, then spent about an hour in rebuttal of the closing arguments presented by the defense. With that, the case was turned over to the jury.

Fifteen people were originally selected for the jury. Three extra (beyond the 12) were included to ensure there were 12 jurors at the end of the trial, which was expected to last 4-6 weeks and is now in its 7th week. One juror was excused a couple of weeks ago because he kept falling asleep during the trial. Today, after the arguments ended, slips of paper with the jurors’ names were put into a little Bingo-like box and two names were drawn. Those jurors were excused from the deliberations, but remain under oath in case a juror currently deliberating becomes ill or otherwise needs to be removed.

No one knows how long the jury will deliberate. They have to look at three charges (homicide by abuse, manslaughter, assault of a child) against two people (Larry and Carri Williams), and consider each charge and each person separately. They also have to consider not just manslaughter and assault, but also “lesser includeds”–manslaughter in the 1st degree, 2nd degree, and 3rd degree. Each has different standards.

Judge Cook also agreed to “dissolve” the No Contact ruling between Larry and Carri Williams. Larry will still remain in jail (he was out on bail but violated the no contact rule by sending a note to his children; Carri remains out on bail). The No Contact ruling between Larry and Carri, and between the parents and children, has been in effect for about 2 years. Now that testimony is over, concerns about any of the parties influencing each other or the process is over. Defense lawyers also asked that the No Contact order be dissolved between the parents and children as well, and it looks like that will happen–the notable exception being Immanuel.

Once the jury decides, the lawyers will have about a half hour to get to the court to hear the decision. I suggest anyone interested in up-to-the minute news follow the twitter account of Gina Cole, the Skagit Valley Herald reporter who’s been covering the trial since jury selection. Follow her at Gina_SVH, and #Williamstrial.

Also, follow Lee Stoll, the reporter at KIRO-TV (Channel 7) in Seattle, who will be at the trial until the verdict is announced. I was interviewed by Lee today, to give the perspective of an adoptive parent.

Gina and Lee have done a great job covering the trial. I’ve learned a lot about media (Gina is print, Lee is broadcast), and so much about the legal process.

My hope is that justice will be served for Hana and Immanuel. It’s in the hands of the jury now. May they take their responsibilities seriously, and deliver a thoughtful, fair verdict.

As a last note today, I was humbled to receive a note this morning from Cindy at Under Much Grace, Resources for Spiritual Recovery, who honored me with the title of “Great Mercy Woman,” for my coverage of the Williams’ trial. Hermana Linda of Why Not Train A Child, and Cathy Harris, a forensic nurse and foster mom, were also named. Linda has been very generous in mentioning my blog on her site, and, much more importantly, in speaking out against abuse of children by challenging the teachings of Michael and Debi Perl. Cathy Harris blogs at Once Lost Child, about her reality as a kidnapped child and a survivor of abuse. They are amazing, accomplished, courageous women, and I am very honored to be in their company.

Thank you very much, Cindy, for this lovely honor that means a great deal to me.

The Williams’ trial, as intense and tragic as it has been, has brought together various communities: adoptive parents, adoptees, deaf children and adults, survivors of abuse, survivors of domestic violence, and more. Regardless of the verdict, I hope some good comes from all the sorrow. I hope Hana is never forgotten. Let’s keep finding better ways to protect and care for children.

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.

September 4: Jury Instructions and Closing Arguments–Part 1

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.

Part 1

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.