August 2: Update on the Williamses’ Trial

The day began with the testimony of John Hutson, the prosecutor’s witness about torture. Mr Hutson said he had reviewed hundreds of pages of material on the case, and then, based on the questions from the prosecutor, outlined what “torture” means.

According to Mr. Hutson, torture occurs internationally and in the US, and has occurred throughout history. It can be a single event (the rack, thumbscrews) or can occur in a series. Duration also matters: being in a locked, dark closet for a few minutes is different from being in a dark, locked closet for hours at a time, over a period of weeks. He said that isolation can be a form of torture (again, extent and duration matter); coupled with malnutrition and physical pain, if it occurs for a long enough time, at some point it indeed becomes torture.

He briefly discussed the Geneva Convention and the US Constitution, noting that the common ground of what torture is generally includes cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Torture, he said, is not exclusively physical pain and suffering. It can include mental and psychological suffering as well. Isolation is among the most insidious forms of torture. Threats of torture, and watching someone you care about undergoing torture, can also be forms of torture.

What determines torture? (1) What is being done, and if things are being done in combination (beatings, food deprivation, humiliation, sensory deprivation) (2) How long these things are done for. Mr. Hutson noted that the impact of torture can be very different for a 25-year-old Marine versus a child, an ill person,or an elderly person.

What are the motivations for torture? Mr. Hutson said that torture is not accidental–there is some sort of motivation, whether to get someone to confess (Salem witches, military intelligence gathering), to modify behaviors, to punish past behaviors, or to influence the behavior of a person watching torture.

Mr. Hutson: That said, it doesn’t matter what the motivation is for torture. There may be an excuse, but there is no justification. To me, this is the heart of the entire day, if not the entire case.

Mr. Hutson then reviewed the various events that were part of the reports regarding Hana and Immanuel: reports from Child Protection Services, the police, doctor, coroner, and so on. He noted the beatings on the soles of the feet (painful, the marks less visible to others–he called this a classic example of torture), the cold shower, the outside showers, the confinement in the shower room and closet, the isolation from the rest of the family, the separation on birthdays and Christmas, the food deprivation (and the frozen vegetables, the wet sandwiches, served outside away from the rest of the family). He noted how disquieting these things are to the person to whom it is happening, and how the isolation in particular causes the person to be less able to cope when other things happen. These events can all make a victim less able to endure other things, especially when they don’t have strength from others to support them. Sen. John McCain, Mr. Hutson commented, has spoken about the torture he received while a prisoner in Vietnam, and how he gained strength from the other POWs–that was how McCain survived.

Both Hana and Immanuel are alleged to have endured all sorts of abuse. An additional element of abuse and perhaps torture, for them, was witnessing the other being abused. Mr. Hutson stressed that it is duration, as much as the force of physical abuse, that determines torture. How much time? How frequently? People who endure torture get worn down over time. Apprehension and confusion can be significant as well. You know the pain or isolation will happen again, but you don’t know when. And/or you don’t know what rules you’re breaking and how to comply. Also, you may be confused if the people who are harming you are the ones you believe should be caring for you.

Mr. Hutson then reviewed additional factors that could have contributed to the definition of torture: a prohibition to express emotions (such as crying); head shaving (not necessarily in itself torture, but a classic example of expressing  power and control, perhaps especially over a girl); the humiliation of using a Port-A-Potty outside (especially if it’s not well-maintained); the temperature of water (cold water, outside, involuntarily used); and the amount of time over which the various incidents occurred. (What a person can endure is different if it happens once or twice as opposed to 10 times, or if it happens several times a day and over several weeks’ time. People get worn down; they get weaker and become more susceptible to pain.)

He concluded that Hana and Immanuel were subjected to torture.

The defense attorney, Ms. Forde, then began her cross-examination. She challenged Mr. Hutson’s knowledge of the Constitution, the status of the law school for which he had been Dean, the fact he had not interviewed all the children, that he did not know the Washington state law about parental discipline, that there are many discrepancies in the various testimonies, that Mr. Hutson had said he had not read “every word” of the documents. She reviewed a lengthy list of hypotheticals: What if you learned that there was plenty of room in the closet to stretch out? What if you learned the spankings were not beatings? Would that then be torture? My sense is that she was outlining, or hinting at, what the defense witnesses are going to argue.

She closed by noting how much money Mr. Hutson, as an expert witness, stood to make in this trial, and suggested that he would now go on to make even more money as a result of testifying here. He disagreed.

The afternoon witnesses included women who knew Carri Williams from church or from her knitting group. Kay Starkovich, from the Wednesday morning knitting group, said that Carri had talked about her troubles with Hana at the group. The group suggested that Carri return Hana to the agency, but Carri said no. “She wouldn’t wish Hana on anyone.” The defense attorneys established that the only contact Ms. Starkovich had had with Carri was occasionally at the knitting store.

Another witness, Rona Engelson, has known Carri for about 14 years. Ms. Engelson had given piano lessons to the Williams’ children, and the two women had visited at each others’ homes, attended baby showers together, and given each other gifts. She said that Carri would teach from the Bible that men were the head of the household and that wives should submit to their husband, and that children should obey their parents. She said Carri kept a spanking rod in her bra strap, a thin rod about 12 inches long. Ms. Engelson said that Carri believed Immanuel was capable of not wetting his pants, that he wet his pants purposely. She said Carri believed Hana was sneaking out and stealing food, and that is why she was locked in her room. In phone calls, Carri had told Ms. Engelson that Hana and Immanuel were much harder to train than her other children. Carri, said Ms. Engelson, demanded perfection of her children and had the same expectations of Hana and Immanuel as she did the other children.

The afternoon ended with Detective Dan Luvera, who’s been a detective with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office for the past 5 years (a total of 27 years with the Sheriff’s Office).  He was among the officers at the Williams’ house the night Hana died, and he attended the autopsy the next day, noting Hana’s injuries (abrasions, bruises) and that she was very thin. The detective had taken many photographs at the Williams’ home, including of the clothing on the ground in the back yard–clothing that Carri had set out for Hana (a short sleeve shirt, underwear, and blue nylon sweatpants), and clothing that Hana had taken off in the course of “paradoxical undressing” that occurs during hypothermia (a short sleeve shirt, loose capri-length shorts, socks, sneakers).

Det. Luvera had collected and packaged the clothing items as evidence the night Hana died. In court, he unpackaged and identified each item, which was then placed in evidence for the trial. This took quite a while.

He also testified that he and other officers had questioned the Williams’ children about Hana’s death, and that Larry and Carri insisted on being present. My sense is that usually children are questioned outside of their parents’ presence. Det. Luvera said the children looked at their parents before answering any questions.

The final part of Friday afternoon involved the prosecutor showing many photos to Det. Luvera, who identified them as photos of the Williams’ home.  The photos were then introduced into evidence. They have not yet been shown to the jury; that will likely happen Monday perhaps, if Det. Luvera testifies again then.

Court will resume Monday August 5 at 9am. The witness list was not announced.

August 1: Update on the Williamses’ Trial

Yesterday August 1, testimony began with Immanuel. The same arrangement of 3 certified interpreters was used. Immanuel is allowed to testify for no more than 2 1/2 hours a day, and not on consecutive days. I don’t know when he will next be in court. He was questioned by the prosecutor (he’s a prosecution witness) for the whole 2 1/2 hours today, with breaks.

The bulk of his testimony consisted of his descriptions of where he slept (a bed in the boys’ bedroom, on the floor in the boys’ bedroom, and in the shower room. Immanuel has or had enuresis, trouble with ability to control urination. Based on his testimony, it seems like the Williamses were constantly checking his underwear to see if he had wet himself, day or night. That pressure could make a little boy pee a lot, or surely be more nervous about peeing, and thus–pee a lot. If his pants were wet, he would be showered in cold water, sometimes inside the shower room and sometimes outside with the garden hose. He said he would be hosed down by Larry, Carri, or the 3 older boys: Joshua, Jacob, and Joseph.

The “shower room” was a room in the house with a shower and tub. It had a door that locked from the outside. If Immanuel wet the bed, he’s have to sleep in the tub in the shower room, where he’s be locked in. Yes, locked in a room with no toilet. He said it happened many, many times.

Immanuel said if he was asleep in the tub, Larry would check him when he came home from work, sometime after midnight, and turn the shower on him if he was wet.

Immanuel testified that Hana was also hosed down by the same 5 people, and that none of the other children were treated this way.

Immanuel also testified about meals and food. Apparently, one of Carri’s rules was that Immanuel had to say thank you before he got food, and sometimes he wouldn’t. so he wouldn’t get food. He and Hana were often forced to eat outside, all year round. The food was often cold, sometimes frozen–hard to eat, said Immanuel. Sandwiches were served wet. He was, he said, often hungry.

Immanuel testified about where Hana slept. She started off in the girls’ bedroom, but later slept in the shower room (not at the same time as Immanuel) and in what he called a “storage room with boxes,” which may have been a sign interpretation of a closet. Further testimony was about this closet and its location in what Immanuel called the music room. Immanuel said Hana would be in the closet all night, sometimes during the day. The closet, like the shower room, was locked from the outside; lights were controlled on the outside as well.

Sometimes, Immanuel said, Hana would sleep alone in the barn, about 80 feet from the house. He said that there was a little bathroom out there, where you could sit. It didn’t flush, but had toilet paper. He was describing the port-a-potty that the Williamses set up for Hana.

The final part of Immanuel’s testimony was about how the family communicated with Immanuel. Carri and the children knew sign language. Immanuel said that at Carri’s birthday party (not sure when that was), Carri told the children not to use sign language with Immanuel anymore. He couldn’t remember how long that lasted, but said it was a long time. To get his attention, they’d stomp on the floor. That would work, he said, depending on what part of the house they were in and he was in. Sometimes, he said, he didn’t respond fast enough because they were too far away from him and he didn’t feel the vibrations.

All of that testimony goes to the prosecution’s contention that Hana and Immanuel were isolated from the other children, a form of abuse/torture.

I want to say how much I admire the excellence and professionalism of the court interpreters. What a tough role for them. Many hearts ache for Immanuel. The special poignancy of a deaf child being isolated and humiliated had to affect them in a unique way.

In the afternoon, there was much discussion about the 5th amendment rights of the older Williams’ sons. Apparently they are concerned about their own liability: whether they could be charged for crimes against Immanuel, since he has testified that they beat him on his feet. The question of whether they did so with or without the permission of their parents also affects Larry and Carri–if they had permission, they implicate their parents. If they didn’t, they implicate themselves. My understanding is that, at this point, the boys won’t testify, but that could change.

In the afternoon, there were 2 witnesses called who knew Carri. One was Donna Lenderman, at whose house Carri and the children once visited and had dinner. Hana was dressed in some kind of wrap and didn’t play with the other children.

The other was Beverly Davies, who had met Carri at the knitting group. They had a couple of conversations about Carri’s children, including Hana and Immanuel. Ms. Davies said that Carri told her Hana was very rebellious and wouldn’t obey the rules. Carri told her that Hana was a liar and would steal, and that Carri couldn’t leave Hana alone in the house, and that they had tried counseling but it hadn’t worked. Carri told Ms. Davies that Hana’s body was developing, that Hana had gotten her period and refused to wear pads, rubbing the pads on the walls, and that Immanuel followed Hana’s lead in not eating the food put before them.

Ms. Davies also said that Carri said she was kicking Hana out as soon as she turned 18, that it wouldn’t be Carri’s problem what then happened to Hana.

To me, that suggests why Larry and Carri wanted Hana to be older than she was–there would be less time before they could legally cut Hana off. I’m struck (once again) by how much could have been done differently–there are so many resources (respite care, therapies, behavior modifications, incentives, etc.) that this family could have used to alleviate the problems.

The final witness was John Hutson, a lawyer and retired US Navy admiral who was dean of the University of New Hampshire Law School. He was called by the prosecution as an expert about torture and interrogation techniques. He has testified many times before Congress and elsewhere; the prosecutor spent much time reviewing Mr. Hutson’s credentials.

The defense attorney, Ms. Forde, then spent much time questioning Mr. Hutson’s credentials: not certified as an expert, no academic research published, never a consultant on a criminal case, not an expert on Washington state law. The judge reviewed Mr. Hutson’s resume and said he can in fact testify.

Court resumes at 9am Friday morning, August 2.

July 30: Update on The Wiliams’ Trial

Apologies for technical difficulties that caused a delay in posting this.

On Tuesday, July 30, Dr. Daniel Selove, a medical doctor Board-certified in clinical pathology, anatomical pathology, and forensics, works with coroners to determine the causes of death. He spoke slowly and looked at the jury often as he gave detailed answers about what an autopsy involves and how he arrives at conclusions. He determined that the cause of Hana’s death in May 2011 was hypothermia, which happens when the body’s core temperature is too cold for the person to survive. He also determined two conditions that contributed to her death: malnutrition and H. Pylori, or gastritis, the inflammation of the stomach lining.

Dr. Selove spent hours going over the conditions that Hana did not have, and did not die from (cancer, AIDS, overactive thyroid gland, parasites, diabetes, schizophrenia, trauma, drugs, drowning, food allergies, anorexia/bulimia, stroke, more).

The prosecutor (Mr. Weyrich) had Dr. Selove review more autopsy photos, noting her the protrusion of her ribs and shoulder blades, her overall thinness, her lack of subcutaneous tissue (the fat under the skin that can keep us warm, if we have enough).

Dr. Selove described what the circumstances that hypothermia occurs in: children and elderly are more at risk, as are thin people; a cold environment, though temps don;t have to be freezing; wet clothes or wet skin, laying on cold surfaces. People dying from hypothermia undergo brain changes, which cause them to stumble and fall. They also engage in what’s called “paradoxical undressing,” taking their clothes off because they have the false sense that they are warm. Hana stumbled and fell that night, and took off her clothes, before she fell unconscious to the ground and later died.

Dr. Selove showed autopsy photos of the many cuts and bruises that Hana apparently acquired the night she died, abrasions on her head, pelvis, elbows, and knees. He also pointed out “striking marks” on Hana’s calves and thigh that Hana had likely received in the hours or days before she died. These injuries were the result of having been struck by a stick-like object; Hana had at least 14 such marks. None of the cuts or the striking marks caused Hana’s death.

Dr. Selove said that the autopsy found no other cause of death besides hypothermia.

The defense attorneys then went over with Dr. Selove, slowly and in great medical detail, the various conditions such as giardia, low organ weight, diabetes, bulimia/anorexia. Ms. Trueblood had Dr. Selove comment on an autopsy photo of Hana’s backside, saying that Hana appeared to have subcutaneous fat under her buttocks and thighs. Ms. Trueblood asked if Hana’s fingernails showed evidence of hypothermia, such as splitting or ridges; Dr. Selove said no. Ms. Trueblood asked about bulimia and anorexia. Dr. Selove said Hana’s esophagus did not show signs of inflammation from vomiting, which is part of bulimia.

The defense attorneys also talked about how conditions like anorexia and bulimia often occur in a clandestine way: that people starve, binge, and purge themselves in secret. I am guessing that they mean to suggest that Hana perhaps covered up her possible bulimia/anorexia, and died as a result of that, rather than malnutrition. This was not a family where privacy was valued highly. Immanuel testified Monday that sometimes he peed on himself because somebody had to go with him to the bathroom, and there wasn’t always somebody around to do that. He and Hana were hosed off outside, or had to shower outside, under the supervision of others.

I’m pretty horrified that the defense is suggesting Hana’s weight loss was from anorexia or bulimia, rather than malnutrition. But I’m more saddened that Hana apparently never received any medical attention after 2009. Both Dr. Chalmers yesterday and Dr. Selove today used Hana’s medical records to look at her weight loss: Hana weighed between 77 and 109 pounds during August 2008 and June 2009. No other medical records apparently exist for her until she was weighed after her death. She was 80 pounds then, at 5 feet tall, in the 5th percentile for girls her age.

The next witness was Gay Knutson, now the Director of Social Services at Adoption Advocates International, the agency used by the Williamses. Ms. Knutson was not personally involved with the Wiliamses’ adoptions of Hana and Immanuel. She testified about various documents that were from the “family file” for Hana and the Williamses: the Welcome Home packet, the child placement papers, the personal data sheets of Larry and Carri Williams, the home study, the post-placement reports. These are all standard adoption agency items.

Ms. Knutson noted that the Williamses were required, like all families who adopt from Ethiopia, to submit post-placement reports every year until the children turn 18. Both the adoption agency and Ethiopia want to know that the children are doing well in their adoptive homes. The Williamses did not submit any post-placement reports after 2009.

Another reason for these post-placement reports is the possibility of the family’s getting help if things are not going well. AAI encouraged families to call if they needed help. They had no record of the Williamses ever calling.

There is a video of Hana taken in Ethiopia by AAI in October 2007, which the prosecution wants to show at some point. Hana said her age in the video, which the defense attorneys challenge. I’m not clear whether Ms. Knutson’s testimony was sufficient to allow the video to be entered and shown. There is another witness who may testify about the video as well, later in the trial.

The final witness was Yohannes Kidane, an instructional assistant with Seattle Public schools, who is fluent in English, Amharic, and Tigrinya. The prosecution hired Mr. Kidane to review adoption-related documents from Ethiopia, to verify that they said the same things in English and Amharic.

Mr. Kidane also explained how the Ethiopian calendar varies from the Gregorian calendar the US uses: the Ethiopian New Year begins in September; the months are all 30 days except for a 13th month which is 5 days; their calendar is between 7-8 years behind the Gregorian calendar. By the Ethiopian calendar, it’s 2005 now. This is important because the dates of events are different on documents, depending whether the Gregorian or Ethiopian calendar is being used.

Mr. Kidane has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Asmara, in Eritrea, and a master’s degree as well. The day ended as Ms. Forde, Larry Williams’ attorney, was asking Mr. Kidane where he went to primary school and high school, over 20 years ago.

The defense attorneys did not ask Ms. Knutson about her education (kindergarten and on), nor Dr. Selove, nor Dr. Chalmers.

Mr. Kidane is expected to testify again Wednesday July 31, probably after lunch break at 1:30. The morning will begin at 9am, with testimony from a Children’s Hospital mental health counselor who was Immanuel’s therapist. The Williamses’ son Joseph could also testify, though the defense lawyers said Joseph’s attorney have told them Joseph plans to take the Fifth amendment on certain items, likely related to the fact that Immanuel had named Joseph as one of the people who hit him. The lawyers and judge were going to confer about next steps regarding Joseph.

July 26: Update on The Williamses’ Trial

This morning was filled with motions largely by the defense attorneys for Larry and Carri Williams. If you are a witness, and equally emphatically if you are a juror, stop reading this blog and any other social media or news source about the trial.

My blog was discussed briefly at this morning’s hearing. I’m now aware of a few things: The attorneys (or their staff or investigators) are paying attention to Facebook postings about the trial. “Monitoring” might be an apt word. A potential witness (I don’t know her) commented on something I posted on my blog. Witnesses should not be reading about the case, or about the motions; the same is true, of course, for jurors. In commenting that the blog writer has been in the courtroom all week, one of the attorneys pointed to me, saying “And I think that’s her!” Another attorney gave me a compliment, saying the blog has been objective. So, I guess I’m in the official transcript now.

Please let me say that I fully support and understand the rationale for witnesses and jurors to be as impartial and open-minded as possible. We all want this to be a fair trial.

And with that, let me summarize today’s proceedings. Motions this morning covered issues about family dynamics as part of the case offered by the state (the prosecution) around isolation of Hana and Immanuel, about the medical condition of Hana and Immanuel, and much discussion about Hana’s date of birth.

Her date of birth is a point of contention: whether the birth certificate from Ethiopia is correct or a made-up date, whether the Williamses chose a date for Hana’s birthday, whether the date on the Certificate of Citizenship is accurate, what documents the Williamses might have placed the date of birth on, including the death certificate.  This matters mightily because of the Homicide by Abuse charge.  That charge (and its 20+ years of prison penalty) applies for minors under 16 years old. If Hana were to be proven to be 16, the charge would not hold.

A number of adoption agency-related issues were discussed, and another adoptive mom and I had a hard time not raising our hands to offer some assistance. She and I talked about the availability of and need for post-adoption services, the responsibilities of both agencies and adoptive parents to know about the services and provide/use them, and the value of the adoption community to adoptive parents, especially those who are struggling. I’ll say more later, not about the motions so much as the value of post-adopt services, and some strategies for accessing and increasing them.

After the lunch break, at 1pm, the courtroom was much fuller than it had been all week. The benches were full of people, and the jury appeared from a back room, with badges on and notebooks available on their chairs. Note-taking is optional; all notebooks will be destroyed at the end of the trial. There are 15 jurors, 10 men and 5 women. Given the possibility of emergencies or illnesses, the jury has 3 alternates built-in. At the end of the trial, if there are still 15 people, 3 names will be randomly drawn, and those 3 will be considered the alternates and be dismissed.

Opening Statements

Rosemary Hawkins Kaholokula presented the Opening Statement for the prosecution. Ms. Kaholokula and Rich Weyrich, Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney, are representing Washington State, and thus Hana and Immanuel.  Ms. Kaholokula began by showing a photo of Hana at her arrival at SeaTac Airport on August 16, 2008, noting that less than 3 years later, Hana was dead. She showed a photo of Immanuel as well.

She talked about the Williamses’ 5 acres of land, including a barn, and their 7 biological children. She said that the first year and a half or so after the arrival of Hana and Immanuel, things went  well, until they went horribly wrong. She stated that the children received not discipline or punishment, but abuse, even torture. Hana started off sleeping with other girls in the one bedroom they shared (the boys had one bedroom also), but because of her behavior, was made to sleep alone in the barn  (83 feet away from the house), and then later on the cement floor of the shower room, She apparently had a sleeping bag and pillow there, but the light and the lock were controlled from the outside.

When Immanuel was punished, he was removed from the siblings’ room and made to sleep in the shower room.  Hana was then made to sleep (unclear how often, though possibly 23 hours at a time) in a closet that was 4 feet 3 inches tall and 2 feet deep.  Hana was 5 feet tall at the time.  The light and lock were also controlled from the outside. She had slept in there the night before she died.

Ms. Kaholokula said that Hana and Immanuel were also hit with a switch, on their bottoms and thighs. Immanuel was once hit by Larry Williams with a wooden stick until he bled. The severity of the beatings increased as time went on. In addition to isolation and beatings, Hana and Immanuel were punished at mealtimes.  They often ate their meals not at the big family table, but outside at a picnic table. They would be given cold leftovers, with frozen vegetables on top, or wet sandwiches. Food would also sometimes be withheld entirely.

Within the last year, Hana lost 25% of her body weight, and weighed about 80 pounds at death.

The Williamses also set up a Honey Bucket or Port-A-Potty outside the barn, exclusively for Hana, because she did not maintain proper hygiene standards, according to Carri Williams.  Hana had Hepatitis B, and contact with her blood (during menstruation, for example) could endanger the other children. Hana also had to shower outside, using a garden hose; privacy would depend on what the family agreed to.

Hana, like most Ethiopian girls, had braids when she arrived.  The Williamses shaved Hana’s head 3 times in the 2 and a half years before she died: once for lice, once for a fungal infection, and once as punishment.

What were the children punished for? According to the prosecutor, transgressions included bad handwriting, incorrect math problems, a badly made bed, clothes on the floor, and stealing food (such as sweets or other treats).

Ms. Kaholokula then described Hana on the cold, drizzly night she died, just after midnight on May 12, 2011. Hana was again punished and made to stay outside, and at some point essentially began to lose control of her body from the effects of hypothermia. She took her clothes off, one of the odd manifestations of hypothermia as the brain becomes confused and starts to lose consciousness. She stumbled and fell down. Carri Williams, who had been watching from inside and had been trying to get Hana to go inside (Hana had refused), went outside. With the help of her children, she brought Hana in, called Larry Williams, then called 911. Hana was dead by the time she reached the hospital. The prosecution then told the jury that additional evidence would be shown to find Larry and Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse and manslaughter in the case of Hana, and assault in the first degree in the case of Immanuel.

Carri and Larry Williams each have two public defenders. Carri’s lawyer began by describing Hana’s last night, saying that Carri made several attempts to get Hana to go in, and left out clean dry clothes for her. Carri asked her 3 teenage sons to bring Hana in, but Hana dropped her pants, and the boys went back in. Daughter Kara saw Hana face down, and Carri went out to check on Hana.  She went back in to get help, brought a sheet out to cover Hana, and they brought Hana back into the house.

The lawyer said that we are not here to argue that Carri Williams was appropriate with punishments or that her discipline techniques were good or appropriate. Yes, the discipline was excessive, but was it substantial bodily harm?

Carri Williams had always wanted to be a mom and have a big family.  She was also passionate about American SIgn Language, and had studied that in college.  She and Larry had 7 children by the time Immanuel and Hana were adopted.  They were very religious. Carri homeschooled all the children, and Larry worked Monday through Friday at Boeing, from noon to midnight.

Carri’s lawyer responded to many of the points made by Hana’s lawyer: None of the other children saw the bleeding that Immanuel alleged had happened when Larry hit him on his head. Hana and Immanuel had to sleep in locked rooms because they kept taking junk food. When Hana was menstruating, she had smeared blood on the bathroom wall, and that’s why the outdoor toilet was brought in for her. While Hana and Immanuel were given leftovers as punishment, they were normal portions, and not old or spoiled.

The trial, Carri’s lawyer said, was not to see if Carri was Mother of the Year, but to see if Carri caused Hana’s death and assaulted Immanuel. The jury was there to see if the facts meet the legal definition of a crime. They agree that the discipline was excessive, but was it truly a crime?

The final Opening Statement was by Cassie Trueblood, the defense lawyer for Larry Williams. She talked about the 9 children, and how Larry was the breadwinner while Carri handled things in the home. She went through the typical daily schedule: the kids got up around 9am; Larry and the older boys cooked breakfast (often pancakes), and then Larry went to work.  The kids all cleaned up, then did chores and worked on school assignments (reading, math, sign language). They prepared lunch, cleaned up after, then read Bible stories, played inside games, and finished school work. They had dinner around 6:30 (the lawyer mentioned burritos and soup), cleaned up, maybe watched educational videos, and went to bed. The older boys would stay up until their dad got home around midnight. It was, the lawyer said, a very close, highly structured family.

Carri Williams wanted to provide a peaceful home for Larry. There were strict rules, and it was very important for the children to be obedient. The Williamses now wish that they had not made some of their parenting decisions, including the outdoor toilet for Hana. The lawyer said that Hana, like the other children, was clearly told what she needed to do to earn back certain privileges. Hana and Immanuel became quite oppositional in the last year with the Williamses. Larry and Carri used spanking as discipline, but had begun to disagree about the effectiveness, sometimes fighting in front of the children. Larry, said the lawyer, would sometimes give the kids big scoops of ice cream.

Ms. Trueblood finished with a description of the efforts to document Hana’s age, noting that Hana’s body was exhumed in January 2013, but dentists and radiologists could not say with certainty that Hana was under 16 years of age. She also said that Hana’s weight loss was due to intestinal parasites and H. pylori, a bacterial infection causing great stomach discomfort.

Hana’s last night was spent outside, but at no point was the door locked, said Ms. Trueblood. At no point did Larry Williams know the severity of Hana’s behavior that night, until Carri called him as he was driving home from Boeing and he told her to call 911. Both parents worked to provide CPR to Hana. Ms. Trueblood noted that all the children were placed in foster care a few months after Hana’s death, and have not seen their parents since then; many of the children will be testifying at some point during the trial. She said that the jury had to consider bad parenting versus criminal behavior, reminded them about Larry and the scoop of ice cream, and urged them to find Larry not guilty.

The judge announced that testimony would begin on Monday July 29 at 9am, when Immanuel will testify, using a certified ASL translator. It is unclear what other witnesses will testify.

Off and on, Carri Williams wept during these Opening Statements. She wasn’t the only one.

July 25: Update on the Williamses’ Trial

Carri Williams on her way to the courthouse with her attorneys July 25, 2013

Carri Williams on her way to the courthouse with her attorneys July 25, 2013

Jury selection was completed this afternoon, and the jury has been sworn in for the Larry and Carri Williams’ trial. The fact that 3 1/2 days were used for the jury selection tells us how serious the process is. Superior Court Judge Susan Cook spent several minutes instructing the jury on their obligations now not to talk about the case with anyone, not to look at any social media or newspapers that might have articles about the case, or read any information source regarding the case.

The jury has now been dismissed until 1pm Friday July 26, when the opening statement by the prosecution and defense will take place.

This afternoon was taken up with motions by the prosecution and defense attorneys regarding what information will be admissible during the trial. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of motions that have been considered so far. Additional motions will be considered Friday morning.

By the way, anyone who wants to look at the motions and other documents that have been filed in regard to this case can do so at the Court Clerk’s office of the Superior Court House. The information is available for a fee. Sometimes the documents have been redacted, meaning that information has been blacked out.

I feel certain that there will be a fair amount of media as well as many other spectators at tomorrow’s opening statement. My suggestion would be, for anyone who plans to attend, to arrive early (before 1pm) if you can.

The address for Skagit County Superior Court House is 201 West Kincaid St., Mount Vernon, WA. From I– 5, take exit 226 for Kincaid Street. The drive is about 55 miles from north Seattle. The good news is that, driving north from Seattle, you will be going against traffic.

To sum up: Tomorrow morning will be continuing motions before the judge by the prosecution and defense attorneys. Opening statements by the attorneys will begin at 1pm in Courtroom number two. Testimony for the trial will begin on Monday morning (July 29), and is expected to continue for 4 to 6 weeks.

I will be there tomorrow for the opening statements. I plan to write more this weekend about the various motions, and about the jury selection process. It’s been fascinating, detailed, and messy: let’s hope it results in justice for Hana.

Hana Alemu Trial

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

In 2 weeks, if all goes according to schedule, the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, adoptive parents (and alleged murderers) of Hana Alemu (Hannah Williams) will take place: Monday, July 22, 2013, at 9am at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, Washington.

Jury selection will probably take 2 or 3 days, so the opening statements might begin on Wednesday July 24 or Thursday July 25. Additionally, there is a meeting among the lawyers scheduled for July 16, for last minute maneuvering. As I hear any news, I will post an update.

Please spread the word encouraging others to attend this trial if at all possible.  I plan to be there, to bear witness for Hana, in the hope that justice will be served.

For background information, please see my previous posts Update on Hana AlemuOn Mother’s Day, and In Remembrance of Hana.

The Williamses are accused of homicide by abuse: this charge means that they caused Hana’s death (May 12, 2011) due to a pattern or practice of abuse or torture. It’s apparently a difficult charge to prove, as a jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a pattern of torture or abuse existed, and that the pattern caused Hana’s death. If the Williamses are found guilty, the average sentence is 23 years.

The Williamses are also accused of 2 other crimes. One is first degree assault on Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child they adopted. The charge means that they caused him serious bodily harm.

While much attention has rightly been placed on Hana’s death, Immanuel was certainly a victim here as well. May we all keep him in our hearts. What that child has apparently been through–terrible abuse by his adoptive parents, as well as witnessing Hana’s abuse and death–is wrenching. He will likely be called to testify at the trial. I have heard he is doing well in his foster home, where his foster mother is deaf (as is Immanuel) and is teaching him sign language in a safe environment. I wish him healing, strength, and justice.

The other criminal charge against the Williamses is first degree manslaughter of Hana, which means recklessly causing her death. That carries a sentence of 7.5 years.

I’m not a lawyer. It’s been over 2 years since Hana died, and the trial is only happening now. Her body has been exhumed and reburied. No doubt there have been dozens of meetings and hearings and other legal actions. No one knows what the outcome of the trial will be. We can hope for justice for Hana.  Whatever happens, we will not forget her.

And let’s remember Immanuel always as well.

Update on Hana Alemu: Trial in July

Hana Alemu was an Ethiopian adoptee found dead outside her adoptive parents’ home in Washington state over two years ago.  Many people–Ethiopians, Americans, adoptive parents, adoptees–were enraged and deeply saddened by the circumstances of Hana’s death.  I’ve written about Hana before, here and here. This Facebook group honors Hana.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

A Brief Recap

Hana Alemu died May 12, 2011.  A report on her death cited by the Seattle Times said she died from “a culmination of chronic starvation caused by a parent’s intentional food restriction, severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and stunning endangerment.”

Her adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, were charged with her death in September 2011. In November 2012, they pled not guilty to the charges against them: homicide by abuse and first degree manslaughter by domestic violence.

Carri and Larry Williams

One reason perhaps for the delay in getting to trial has been Hana’s age. She was thought to be 13 when she died.  Also in November 2012, the judge agreed to the prosecutor’s request to exhume Hana’s body to confirm her age. The exhumation took place in January 2013, but the findings were inconclusive. Lawyers are now trying to track down Hana’s Ethiopian uncle, who may have been present at Hana’s birth, and could thus verify her age.

Hana’s age matters because the “homicide by abuse” charge applies only to children younger than 16. My understanding is that the penalty for homicide by abuse is more severe than that of manslaughter by domestic violence. The prosecutors, on behalf of Hana, will argue for the Williamses to get the harsher sentence.


On June 7 2013, a brief hearing was held in Skagit County to work out administrative details for the upcoming trial, expected to begin July 22, 2013. It could last for weeks. I expect it will get a lot of media coverage.

Many people from the Ethiopian community and the adoption community will be there, to honor Hana, hoping that justice will be served for her. I will be among them. We can’t forget her.

Update, Previews, and Teasers

It’s good to be back.  In the last few weeks, I’ve gone from Seattle to Vancouver and back, and then from Washington State to Maryland to New York City to Maryland to Washington State.


During these 3 weeks: One of my daughters ran her first 5k, and finished in the top 20. My other daughter made the honor roll for her college semester, and was asked to be a teaching assistant this fall in the psychology department. One of my sons received the certification for sanitation at the Culinary School he’s attending. My other son closed on several real estate/rental contracts.

I attended my granddaughter’s dance recital in Maryland.  She has since had two tee ball games, Field Day in kindergarten, and her piano recital.


In New York City, I saw the play “The Call,” about a white married couple considering adopting a child from Africa. I also attended the annual conference of the Joint Council on International Children Services. I presented a session on “Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents: Ethics, Economics, and Responsibilities,” as well as a lightning talk (20 PowerPoint slides in 5 minutes) on The Art of Adoption, featuring poems, paintings, and plays by adoptees.


And each Friday, whatever time zone I was in, I skyped with my dad in Massachusetts. He’s in amazing physical health for an 83 year old.  He lives in the Harbor unit of an assisted living facility, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  He’s delightful to talk with, often asks if any of my kids are getting married. No word on that yet, Dad.

I’ve had lots to reflect on in terms of family, adoption, being in the moment, the futility of art-directing others people’s lives, and more.

Previews and Teasers

Tomorrow night (Tuesday June 4), 7 pm pdt/10pm edt: Angela Tucker (of Closure) and Aselefech Evans via Google + Hangout. The conversation will be about transracial adoption (US and Ethiopia), hair, race, diversity, search: how perception and understanding of adoption changes over time for adoptees, how our definition of “family” can be so complex.

In the next week or so, I will be posting my JCICS workshop information about Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents.  (Teaser: The basics are citizenship, DNA testing, and role models/mentors who are adult adoptees.  The more controversial: Insisting on equitable pre-adopt and post-adopt services for birth families.)

I’m thrilled to be soon getting an advance review copy of The Declassified Adoptee‘s soon-to-be-published book. It’s going to be wonderful, powerful, provocative, insightful. A tremendous benefit to the adoption community.

Washington State has also provided two items of fodder recently for writing and commenting. For one, a less than adequate “compromise” bill on access to OBC’s. The second item is still not having a trial for Hana Alemu, more than two years after she was found dead in her adoptive parents’ back yard. A hearing is scheduled this week.

So.  There’s lots going on. Lots to write about, think about, reflect on. It’s good for us to be here.

On Mother’s Day: A Prayer for Hana Alemu (Williams)

This is a prayer for Hana Alemu, born in 1997 in Ethiopia, brought to Washington state in the US for adoption in 2008, died naked at night alone in the cold, locked outside her adoptive family home, on May 12, 2011: two years ago today, Mother’s Day. She weighed less at her death than she had at arrival 3 years earlier from Ethiopia.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana, may we learn from the loss of your life, that no child should ever suffer as you did.

May we remember and pray for your Ethiopian mother, keeping her in our hearts always.

May your Ethiopian family, those who knew you and those who grieve for you (whether angry, heartbroken, confused, prayerful) find healing and comfort.

May we adoptive parents deeply understand the responsibility we have, to care for and treasure our children.

May all parents who need help in caring for their children reach out and receive that help.

May adoption agency workers, child protective services staff, lawyers, police officers, and government officials receive encouragement and insistence that they do their difficult work conscientiously, aware that lives hang in the balance.

May justice be done.

May we never forget Hana.

A note:

I visited Hana’s grave this past Thursday (May 9), in anticipation of both Mother’s Day and the second anniversary of her death, May 12.

Hana's grave at Union Cemetery, Sedro-Woolley, WA

Hana’s grave at Union Cemetery, Sedro-Woolley, WA

As an adoptive mother of four children, including two daughters from Ethiopia, I have been both outraged and aching over Hana.

I wrote previously about Hana here.

Her adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams have yet to go to trial. Hana’s body was exhumed and reburied in January, because there was a question about her actual age. If she is proven to be older (say, 16, at time of death), the charges against her adoptive parents could be reduced. Their next court date is in July.

Facebook group honors and remembers Hana. There is much interest in getting Hana a decent grave marker, and we hope that can happen after the trial concludes and justice is done.

OBC Outrage: Adoptive Parents?

Adopted children grow up. As adults, as US citizens, they should have the (basic, human, civil) right to access their Original Birth Certificate.

Access is a matter of state law. In only 6 states do adoptees have full access to their own OBC.

Birth parents were never guaranteed privacy through legislation on the federal, state ,or local level. Never. Yet they hold the legal rights (via vetoes written into state laws) to prevent the child they placed for adoption–the child to whom they gave up all legal rights–from accessing knowledge of who he or she is.

I believe in the rights of birth parents. I recognize how often they have been marginalized. The playing field, though, needs to be level here. It’s simply not fair to deny adoptees the fundamental right to know who they are.  No other group in the United States is cut off like this.

I’m disappointed in what seems to be happening here in Washington state, as adoptees’ rights are again being crushed. I’ll be writing to the Seattle Times and elsewhere, and I hope other adoptive parents join me.

The world hasn’t ended in Kansas or Alaska, where adoption records have never been sealed. In Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Maine, adult adoptees can access their records. In these 6 states, adopted adults have the right to access or not access their own records. Many adopted adults choose not to seek their OBC.

The right to one’s original birth certificate should be a real option, not an impossible, illicit act.

It puzzles me that adoptees and birth parents favoring open records have not been more successful. Very frustrating, but I think it shows the imbalance of power in adoption policy. We adoptive parents have been historically mighty in the World of Adoption Policy; it’s time we wielded our clout in this arena for our children to have access to their original birth certificates.

Adopted children grow up. It’s time we treated them as adults.

For some good advocacy, look at the following:

Adoptee Rights Coalition: Information about the status of legislation across the country.

Family Ties:  Thoughtful blog written by a grandmother like me, though she’s an adoptee.  And has 5 more grandkids than I do.

Bastard Nation: Great name, right? Provocative, helpful information. Here’s the Washington state info.

Washington Coalition for Adoptee Rights and Equality: Information specific to Washington state adoptees.