New Novel by David Guterson about the Hana Williams’ Case

David Guterson is the prize-winning author of Snow Falling on Cedars and other books, and is also an adoptive parent of an Ethiopian child. I met him while attending the Hanna Williams’ trial here in Washington state in the summer of 2013.

Guterson has recently published a novel, The Final Case, based on Hanna’s death and the trial. I have placed a hold on it at my local library, and will post my comments here after I have read the novel.

Having attended almost every day of the trial, I have vivid memories of the people involved: the defendants Larry and Carri Williams, their children (some of whom testified at the trial), the prosecuting and the defense lawyers, the many witnesses. I have written about the trial extensively here on my blog. It will be interesting to see how much adoption as such (trauma, fraud, oversight, etc) is a part of the novel.

It is also interesting to consider the decision to write a novel as opposed to a nonfiction book about Hanna’s story. I am guessing that could be to avoid potential litigation. Beyond that, perhaps a work of fiction will bring more readers? I don’t know. The fictionalization of Hanna’s life and death gives me pause, and I am not sure just why. I look forward to reading the book. I hope Hanna is never forgotten. Maybe that is part of the book as well. May she rest in peace and in power.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

An Ethiopian Adoptee’s Perspective on Adoption: NAAM

This is day 15 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Aselefech Evans is an Ethiopian adoptee who arrived in the U.S. 27 years ago, at six years old, along with her twin sister. Aselefech describes herself as a politicized family preservationist.

About three years ago, she wrote a poignant, insightful post on her blog, about trauma and the “trauma-versery” that occurs every November on the anniversary of her arrival in the U.S. She re-posted it recently, for National Adoption Awareness Month.

An excerpt:

I remember that my new life was supposed to be enough. For some, it may be. But understand that the most resilient soul often still suffers in silence, no matter how well-adjusted they may  seem. My ability to get through this isn’t because I had a perfect life, but it’s because I hold onto the love of my birth and adoptive family—yet, I still struggle with the loss.

Here is the link to this post:

Aselefech and her mother in Ethiopia

Full disclosure: I am blessed to be Aselefech’s mom through adoption, and I could not love her more. I asked for her permission before sharing this, and she gave it. I am proud of her willingness to speak her truth.

Lions Roaring, Far From Home: An Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees

It has been a labor of love, and it has taken far longer than anyone would have liked. Nonetheless, “Lions Roaring Far From Home: An Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees,” is finally nearing publication.

We have 15 writers from the U.S., 5 from France, 4 from Sweden, 2 from Australia, and one each from adoptees living in Canada,The Netherlands, and Ethiopia.

Most of our writers are women/girls; there are 5 men/boys. The age range is from 8 years old to over 50 years old.

The essays and poems range in length from 85 words to almost 2400 words. The book will be available in electronic and hard copy versions. The cover art is by the extraordinarily talented Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie. Here’s a sneak peek of a portion of the art:

A few of the essays are about a writer’s memories in Ethiopia before being placed in an orphanage. Some are about the time spent in an orphanage, some are about dealing with racism, some are reflections on adoption itself. Some are upbeat; some are introspective and mournful. Some are about giving back to Ethiopia. Some are matter-of-fact; some are deeply emotional. 

They have a powerful range in terms of their subject matter, Each one reflects the writer’s truth. They show the spectrum of Ethiopian adoptees’ experiences, through the adoptees’ voices.

We are dedicating the book to the memory of Ethiopian adoptees who have died by suicide, or have died at the hands of their adoptive parents.

Profits from the book are going to the creation of an Ethiopian adoptee guest house in Addis. We may do a fundraiser at some point to get the book translated into Amharic, and perhaps into other languages. Translations are expensive, and we would love to get the book into as many readers’ hands as possible.

We are in the process of contacting folks to be advance readers of the anthology, reaching out to Ethiopians and to transracial international adoptees. Our Facebook page and other social media will soon go live.

The journey to publication has been complicated. I am deeply honored by the trust and courage of each one of the writers to write these essays and poems. We can’t wait to share their stories with the world.

“Lions Roaring” Anthology

After much too long a time, the anthology “Lions Roaring, Far From Home” is edging toward publication. 

It will contain about 30 essays by Ethiopian adoptees, ages 9 to late 50’s, who were raised in the US, Canada, Sweden, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia. 

Funds from sales will go toward a guest house in Addis for returning adoptees. The book will be dedicated to Ethiopian adoptees who have died by suicide and other means.

Front and back cover art is by Art of Nahosenay Negusssie and by Ethiopian adoptee Adanech Evans. 

More details coming soon!

Original Art © Adanech Evans.

Remembering Hana Williams, 9 Years After Her Death

Today is the 9th anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Hanna Williams, whose name was also Hana Alemu. Two years after her death, her adoptive parents were jailed for decades in 2013 for homicide by abuse (the charge against Carri Williams, the adoptive mother) and for manslaughter (the charge against Larry Williams, the adoptive father).

Every May 12, and on many other days as well, my thoughts turn to Hana. On May 12, 2011, Hana died outside her adoptive family’s home, due to hypothermia and malnutrition. She’d arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in 2008, and died weighing less than she had upon arrival. Her time in America began with a semblance of love, and devolved into cruelty, torture (the use of torture was part of the homicide by abuse charge), physical and emotional abuse, and ultimately death.

She would have turned 22 this year, had she lived.

Larry and Carri also had 7 biological children, who all, I am guessing, are legal adults now. They witnessed all the things that happened to Hana, as well as to the Williamses’ other adopted Ethiopian child, Immanuel. He was abused also, and Larry and Carri were charged and convicted for their abuse of Immanuel. I don’t know how any of the children are doing now. The testimony of the siblings who testified in court, who were also ultimately victims here, played an important role in the conviction of Larry and Carri.

In 2018, Ethiopia ended international adoptions. Hana’s death played a large part in that decision. as many Ethiopians worried about the fate of their children sent away for adoption. Most Ethiopian adoptees do well, of course, though some struggle with the trauma and grief that can be part of adoption. I know some adoptees who are placed for adoption due to medical conditions that are essentially untreatable in Ethiopia, and am happy to say that the American and the Ethiopian families have stayed in contact, which is wonderful. Increasing numbers of adoptees are searching for and reuniting with their Ethiopian families, a complicated journey. For adoptees and for Ethiopian families who want to search, consider contacting Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a wonderful resource. Others, please consider donating to their work.

Many Ethiopian adoptees have searched and reunited with their Ethiopian families, including my twin daughters. My daughters are both mothers now themselves—what a blessing. My older granddaughter met her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Ethiopia. My younger granddaughter is 8 months old now, and I hope she has a chance to meet all her Ethiopian relatives as well.

While some international adoptees are genuine orphans, with no living parents or other relatives, the vast majority are not orphans. Hana had relatives in Ethiopia. I think of them today as well, of course. May Hana rest in power, justice, and peace. We have not forgotten you.

May all children be safe and loved.

An adoption agency photo of Hana in Ethiopia, prior to her adoption in 2008
.

There are many ways to support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, and I encourage you to do so. Adoption is by no means the only way to ensure that children grow up safely and happily. Organizations that support HIV+ children, that empower women and literacy for girls, that train midwives and provide maternal care, that bring electricity to rural regions, that build schools and libraries: there are many wonderful, transparent, and effective nonprofits/non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) working with Ethiopians in the community to help children.

Update in Hana Williams’ Case: Carri Williams’ Petition Denied

A legal update: You may remember that in September 2019, the Washington state Court of Appeals refused to reverse the convictions of Larry and Carri Williams in the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams.

Today, the Court of Appeals turned down Carri Williams’ Personal Restraint Petition, which she had filed on October 29, 2019, in response to the September denial. I am not a lawyer; this is my understanding. The bottom line is that both Larry and Carri will remain in jail.

You can read the denial from the Court of Appeals here.

In 2013, Larry and Carri Williams were convicted for the homicide of Hana Williams and the abuse of Immanuel Williams. I wrote about the conviction and the sentencing here.

Hana, you remain in our hearts. Immanuel, we wish you peace and healing.

Larry and Carri Williams (Again) Denied New Trials in Murder of Hana Williams

This past June 2019, Larry and Carri Williams, convicted in 2013 of the homicide of their Ethiopian adopted daughter, requested new trials. Today, the Court of Appeals denied those requests. Larry and Carri will remain in jail.

Larry Williams was sentenced for 27 years, and Carri Williams for 36 years. They have been in jail since their jury trial in 2013. In 2015, they appealed their convictions, saying that evidence was incomplete and that the court made multiple errors. The appellate court denied their appeal.

This time, they argued that they received deficient legal representation, and that their convictions should be vacated; Carri asked to be re-sentenced for a lesser charge than first-degree manslaughter.

A hearing was held on Wednesday, June 12, in Seattle.

Today, the Appellate Court released their rulings. The judges, in a 43 page decision, rejected all of Carri’s claims about prosecutorial misconduct. The judges wrote: …”we conclude there were no constitutional errors giving rise to any actual prejudice and no fundamental defects resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice. Carri received a fair trial. We thus reject her….petition.”

In a 52 page decision, the Appellate Court also rejected Larry’s petition, which included 8 claims. They concluded their decision the same way as they did Carri’s: no constitutional errors and no fundamental defects in the trial.

I am not a lawyer, and I welcome lawyers to weigh in. The bottom line, though, I can state as a non-lawyer: the petitions were denied, and Larry and Carri will remain in jail.

The slip decision for Larry Williams in available here.

The slip decision for Carri Williams is available here.

Be aware that these lengthy decisions contain details about Hana’s life and death; they make for tough reading. May Hana rest in power and in peace.

Larry and Carri Williams’ Appeals Hearing, and the Contrast of Ethiopian Resilience and Hope

Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in 2011 of malnutrition and hypothermia, weighing less at death the she had when he arrived in the US three years earlier. In 2013, her adoptive parent were found guilty of homicide, child abuse, and manslaughter. Last week, (June 2), I attended the one hour appeals court hearing in Seattle regarding Larry and Carri Williams’ request that their 2013 convictions be overturned or, failing that, that they get a new trial. The three appeals court judges listened to the arguments of the lawyers. They asked a few questions.

I am not a lawyer, but I know the appeals court process does not re-try the case. No new evidence is introduced; there are no witnesses. The question in an appeal is whether there were legal errors made in the trial that were sufficient to overrule the conviction.

Larry and Carri were not there. Several of Carri Williams’ relatives were at the hearing and conferred with their lawyer afterward; Larry’s relatives may have been there too, but I did not recognize them from the trial. 

The attorney arguing for the overturning of Carri Williams’ conviction for Hana’s homicide and immanuel’s abuse was James Lobsenz, a partner with the law firm of Carney Badley Spellman in Seattle. The attorney arguing for overturning for Larry Williams for ,manslaughter and abuse was Todd Maybrown, a partner with the law firm of Allen, Hansen, Maybrown, and Offenbecher. in Seattle.

The attorney for the state of Washington, requesting that the convictions be maintained, was Erik Pedersen, a Skagit County prosecutor. Pedersen argued successfully in 2015 when Larry and Carri also appealed their convictions.

We don’t know when the judges will make a decision on the case. My understanding is that appeals court decisions can take a week, or they can take months. Right now, decisions are filed on Mondays. If you go to the Washington State Court of Appeals website, you can click on Opinions and sign up for notifications of Appeals Court Division I decisions.

I have no insider information about this, but I do find it interesting that Larry and Carri have private attorneys for this 2019 appeal. Perhaps Mr. Lobsenz and Mr. Maybrown are doing this work pro bono (for free, as volunteers, “pro bono publico” which means for the public good). Perhaps family members or friends are underwriting the costs. I do know that neither of the lawyers was at the 2013 trial to see the autopsy photos of Hana’s emaciated, scarred body, nor to hear the testimony of the Williams’ children about the isolation, deprivation, and punishments that Hana and Immanuel endured.

I for one pray that justice is served, and that the convictions for homicide, manslaughter, and child abuse will be upheld.

Had she not died from torture, hypothermia, and malnutrition 3 years after arriving for adoption from Ethiopia, Hana would now be about 21.

Immanuel is now about 18 years old, and is apparently doing fairly well. He hopes to return to Ethiopia with his new, loving family. Immanuel is deaf. (One of the punishments Carri Williams sometimes used with Immanuel was requiring that no one communicate with him in sign language.) His family now includes people who know sign language, and they will travel with him to Ethiopia, in part to help with signing and with deaf culture issues. It will be, I would guess, an emotional, complicated trip. The death of Hana was among the reasons that Ethiopia closed to adoptions, and many Ethiopians around the world deeply grieve her death, and of course want Immanuel to heal and thrive as well. There is a GoFundMe campaign for Immanuel and his family’s trip back. Please contribute if you are able.

Painting of an Ethiopian woman cradling her baby.
Original Art © Adanech Evans.

I want to close this post with a mention of another Ethiopian adoptee, Abai Schulze. Abai is the founder and Creative Director of ZAAF, “a collection of premium leather goods and accessories handcrafted by artisans in Ethiopia.” The products are stunning. They have been featured at New York Fashion Week, in Elle, Lucky, Vogue, and Forbes.

Abai came from Ethiopia to the US for adoption at around 11 years old. Her adoptive family encouraged her not to lose her Amharic language and to keep her connections with Ethiopia. She holds a degree in economics from George Washington University, learned about design and fine arts, and returned to Ethiopia to establish ZAAF in 2014. You can read more about her in Tadias and elsewhere.

Abai recently gave an incredible, inspiring Tedx talk, available here. The theme of the Tedx was a “A World of Change, A World of Hope,” and Abai’s talk was titled ” ‘Made in Africa’ The Power of Shifting Perceptions.” She briefly discusses adoption, but the focus is much more on the tremendous potential of Ethiopian and African creativity and business power. Abai offers an important view into alleviating poverty not through charity or saviorism, but through liberation of talent and ingenuity. She gives a solid business plan based in economics, pragmatism, resilience, and hope.

It’s resilience and hope I want to focus on, as we keep Hana in our hearts always. May justice be served.

For lawyers and others who may be interested, here is the link to appellate briefs in Carri Williams’ petition. Her case is number 77416-6.

Here is the link to appellate briefs in Larry Williams’ petition. His case number is 77460-3.

Larry and Carri Williams Request New Trials And Release From Prison

The Skagit Valley Herald has reported that Larry and Carri Williams, convicted in 2013 of the homicide of their Ethiopian adopted daughter, have requested new trials, and to be released from prison in the meantime.

Larry Williams was sentenced for 27 years, and Carri Williams for 36 years. They have been in jail since their jury trial in 2013. In 2015, they appealed their convictions, saying that evidence was incomplete and that the court made multiple errors. The appellate court denied their appeal.

This time, they are arguing that they received deficient legal representation, and that their convictions should be vacated; Carri has asked to be re-sentenced for a lesser charge than first-degree manslaughter.

A hearing will be held on Wednesday, June 12, in Seattle.

More information is available here: Skagit Valley Herald, “Wliiamses ask for new trial, release.”

Remembering Hana Williams on the 8th Anniversary of Her Death

On May 12, 2011, three days after Mothers Day, Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in the Washington state backyard of her adoptive family. The cause of death was hypothermia; the other reasons were malnutrition, bruises, beatings, isolation, loneliness, and fear. She was 13 years old, and she had been in the United States for less than three years.

The photo is of Hana when she was in Ethiopia. She is wearing a striped shirt and has a slight smile.
Hana in Ethiopia, prior to adoption. May she Rest in Peace.

This year, the anniversary of her death falls on Mothers Day here in the United States. Hana’s adoptive mother Carri Williams has been in jail since her conviction for homicide by abuse. In Washington state, where Hana lived, homicide by abuse means that the death was the result of “extreme indifferent to human life,” as well as a pattern or practice of assault or torture” of a child under 16 years old. It’s a tough charge to prove, and the Skagit County prosecutors were able to do so because of the horrific ways that Hana had been treated over time.

I have written about Hana many times. I attended most of the 2013 trial which ended in long jail sentences for her adoptive parents. I often wonder how the Williamses’ biological children are doing. Their testimony was pivotal to their parents’ felony convictions. The siblings all witnessed their parents’ abuse and torture of Hana over years; several of them also witnessed her death.

All around the globe, and especially in Ethiopia, people have grieved for Hana. No human being, no child, should ever go through what she experienced in her too brief life. We all keep her in our hearts in different ways. She would have been 21 now.

I offer a few suggestions for honoring her memory.

One is to support the hopes of her adopted brother, Immanuel. He was adopted from Ethiopia at the same time as Hana. Immanuel was also severely abused by his adoptive parents. Like all the minor Williams’ children, Immanuel was removed from his home after Larry and Carri Williams were accused of homicide and abuse in 2013. He was placed with a foster family who had experience with deaf children like Immanuel, and was later adopted. He will soon turn 18, and would like to return for a visit to Ethiopia. His new adoptive family is helping him achieve this dream through a GoFundMe campaign. Please consider helping Immanuel in this way. He has been through so much.

Another possibility is to support a campaign to provide much needed medical care for two brothers in Ethiopia who have the extremely rare and painful disease Epidermolysis Bullosa. E.B. means extremely fragile skin and constant blisters that must be cleansed and treated daily. The condition and the treatment are painful. The boys, who are 7 and 13 years old, were only recently correctly diagnosed with E.B., and as a result have suffered from painful infections, loss of skin in some places, and a compromised immune system. This fundraiser has already delivered medical supplies and the boys’ parents have been trained how to best care for their sons. This is about family preservation as well: keeping children with their parents, even as the boys have significant medical issues and the parents have few resources. This is about life and love. You can learn more about this family and the GoFundMe campaign to keep these boys as healthy as possible. My dear friend Jemal Countess knows the family and has set up the funding campaign, as well as assisted with the arrangements to get the medical supplies to the family.

I would also suggest donating to and sharing information about Ethiopian Adoption Connection-Beteseb Felega. EAC provides free services to reunite Ethiopian adoptees with their Ethiopian families. They have a database in Amharic and English where individuals can share information about an adoption, and have been successful in reconnecting families. They also provide emotional and social support for Ethiopian first/birth families through caseworker-led support groups. You can learn more about them here.

Many people have expressed concern about the end of Ethiopian adoptions, which occurred in January 2018. All international adoptions to the United States have generally declined in recent years. Take a look at my post “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action.” There are many ways to still support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia: adoption was never the only way to help.

There is a Facebook site, In Rememberance of Hanna Williams, that may be of interest.

My biggest suggestion is to treasure those you love, and to let them know it. I think of Hana so often, and of her Ethiopian mother and family. So much loss.