Carri Williams Cannot Stop Adoption Proceedings for 5 of Her Children

Carri Williams, sentenced for 37 years for the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu, gave up custody of her minor biological children in September 2013, when she was convicted of homicide by abuse. This past January, she tried to overturn a ruling to stop the adoption of her children. Appellate court judges disagreed.

This means that Carri Williams cannot stop the adoption proceedings of 5 of her children, who range in age from 11 to 18. The two oldest biological children are over 18.

Read “Appellate Court Affirms Ruling on Convicted Mother’s Dispute Over Adoption of Her Children” from the Skagit Valley Herald for more information.


Carrie Williams, looking toward the jury

Carrie Williams, looking at the jury during her 2013 trial.


Kathryn Joyce: Aftermath of Hana Williams’ Death, and of Ethiopian Adoptions

During the course of the 7 week trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Skagit County, Washington, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Having worked years ago with international adoption agencies, I knew some of the people mentioned in the book, and was familiar with some of the issues raised. Kathryn is a thoughtful, intelligent, warm person, and a talented, insightful writer.

She covered the trial of the parents of Ethiopian adoptees Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams, and talked with many members of the Ethiopian community as well, including adoptees. She has written a powerful, challenging piece published today on Slate. Click on the title to read it: Hana’s Story: An adoptee’s tragic fate, and how it could happen again.

The article discusses Hana’s life and death, and the subsequent trial of Larry and Carri Williams, now serving long sentences in jail. It also tells the stories of several other Ethiopian adoptees, placed primarily by Adoption Advocates International, the same adoption agency that the Williamses used. These now-young adults were adopted into very large, Christian fundamentalist families, and many were subjected to the same treatment as Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel. Some of these Ethiopian adoptees have been thrown out of their families, have struggled mightily fitting into American society, and are now desperately alone, far from the land of their birth.

As an adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, I read the story of the Ethiopian adoptees with a heavy heart. I’ve expressed my concerns about adoption practices related to Hana and Immanuel in several posts, such as Case Study, Part 1: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency, and Case Study, Part 2.

While Hana’s death was an extreme example of what can go tragically wrong in adoption, we cannot dismiss it as “isolated” and turn our eyes. We need to reflect very seriously on how to make things better for adopted children. The children (we hope) grow up to be adults. They continue to need services and support, especially if the placements were not appropriate for them and they have been exiled from their adoptive families–and now cannot return to their homeland either.

I encourage you to read The Child Catchers, and to read Kathryn’s article on Slate. Yes, it’s tough reading, and the temptation is to shake our heads, to throw up our hands. But that’s not enough.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

May Hana rest in peace, and may no child suffer as she did. May her legacy be one of hope and strength for Ethiopian adoptees.

Update: KUOW, NPR’s Seattle station, did an interview with Kathryn Joyce on November 13. Listen to it here.

Larry and Carri Williams: Sentenced to Long Jail Times

This morning (October 29, 2013) at 9:30 am pdt, at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon, WA, Judge Susan Cook presided over the sentencing hearing of Larry Williams, convicted of manslaughter (of adopted Ethiopian daughter Hana) and assault of a child (of adopted Ethiopian son Immanuel), and of Carri Williams, convicted of homicide by abuse (of Hana), manslaughter (of Hana), and assault of a child (Immanuel).

Larry and Carri both were in the Skagit County red prison uniforms. As would be expected, the attorneys for both defense and prosecution had various arguments and motions. Larry’s attorneys began by arguing for a new trial; the judge denied the motions. The judge vacated (dropped) Carri’s manslaughter conviction, because she was also convicted of a more serious offense, homicide by abuse, for the same conduct.

The prosecution asked for 333 months, or 27 3/4 years, of jail time for Larry Williams. The defense attorneys asked for 5 years, saying that Larry is ashamed for what he did, and that he has been punished enough.

The prosecution asked for 443 months (about 37 years) of jail time for Carri Williams.  The defense recommended 333 months (about 28 years) for Carri, saying she is not a danger to the community.

Larry Williams wanted to speak on his own behalf, but the motion was denied.

As she was about to hand down the sentences, Judge Cook said, “I am at a complete loss as to why this happened.”

The judge sentenced Larry to a sentence of 333 months. That is a surprisingly long sentence. The judge signed the judgment and sentence documents in regards to Larry, who was then led away to jail.

The Judge sentenced Carri to a sentence of 443 months, the full amount requested by the prosecution. Judge Cook said Carri probably deserved more. Carri was taken away immediately in handcuffs and chains.

Carri’s attorneys plan to file an appeal. They asked for bail during the appeal to be lowered to $600,000. The judge denied the motion, and set bail at $1.5 million.

Judge Cook had presided over the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, the longest in the history of Skagit County, Washington state. I have written dozens of posts about the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu (Williams) and the assault of Ethiopian adoptee Immanuel, both of whom were placed for adoption with the Williams’ family in 2008.

The courtroom was, not surprisingly, packed to overflowing. Gina Cole of the Skagit Valley herald reported that trial jurors were there, as well as Carri Williams’s sister, Immanuel’s foster mother, and some witnesses from the trial. Lee Stoll, a reporter with KIRO7, said that 10 of the 14 jurors were in the jury box to watch the sentencing.

Many representatives from the Ethiopian community attended the trial, and many were again present today at the sentencing. The Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle sent an email out saying that they planned to place flowers and candles on Hana’s grave in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery following the sentencing hearing. There will also be a celebration of Hana’s life at the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle tonight, at 6pm pdt. The address is 8323 Rainier Ave South, Seattle, WA 98118. Phone: 206-325-0304.

May Hana rest in peace, never forgotten.

Note: Many thanks to Skagit Valley Herald reporter Gina Cole, KING-TV reporter Erik Wilkinson, and KIRO7 TV reporter Lee Stoll for their “real-time” Twitter feeds.

KING-TV Photo from Erik WIlkinson's Twitter feed

KING-TV Photo from Erik WIlkinson’s Twitter feed

Update on October 29 Sentencing of Larry and Carri Williams

Note: My blog post about the sentencing and jail terms is available here at Larry and Carri Williams: Sentenced to Long Jail Times.

Larry and Carri Williams are expected to appear in Skagit County Court tomorrow, October 29, at 9:30am Pacific Daylight Time, for sentencing following their convictions in the murder of their Ethiopian adopted daughter Hana, and for the assault of their Ethiopian adopted son Immanuel. The courthouse is expected to be packed, following the longest trial ever in Skagit County, Washington.

The jury announced their decision on September 9. Both Larry and Carri were taken immediately to jail that day. Sentencing was originally scheduled for October 8. My guess is that decisions regarding the placements of the Williams’ children needed to be settled prior to sentencing. I believe that their minor children will be placed with relatives. I have heard that parental rights for Immanuel have been terminated, which would mean he could be adopted by another family, but I have no confirmation of that yet.

The decision on sentencing is in the hands of Judge Susan Cook, who presided over the trial. The lawyers have been busy preparing documents for the judge to consider in making her decision.

Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse and of manslaughter of Hana. She was also found guilty of first degree assault of Immanuel. Here is a recent Skagit Valley Herald article on Carri Williams’ motion to drop manslaughter charge. My understanding is that the prosecutors will recommend 27 to 37 years in jail for Carri Williams.

Here is a Skagit Valley Herald article on Carri Williams’ treatment in jail.

Larry Williams was found guilty of manslaughter of Hana and of first degree assault of Immanuel. He has already spent about two years in jail while the case was pending and could get credit for that time. My understanding is that the prosecutors will recommend 14 to 18 years in jail for Larry Williams.

Here is a recent Skagit Valley Herald article on Larry Williams’ attorneys motion to dismiss the conviction.

Rachel Forde, one of Larry’s Snohomish County public defenders, has been consistent in her strategy for her client. In the course of Larry’s testimony during the trial, he blamed Carri for almost all that happened. The idea: his work schedule (noon to midnight, plus overtime) prevented him from knowing what was going on. The defense motion asks the judge to dismiss the conviction, but my sense is that this is simply an aggressive defense argument, and a very unlikely outcome. Ms. Forde also argues that Larry should receive a sentence of 5 years at most, which is also unlikely. Many folks felt Larry threw Carri under the bus during this trial, and that perspective is in place for sentencing as well. A hefty part of this defense motion included a study of adjustment issues for international adoptees, suggesting that Hana and Immanuel were responsible for the crimes committed against them. A lot of room under that bus, it seems. The tragedy continues.

The Skagit Valley Herald articles were all written by reporter Gina Cole, who has covered the trial since the first day of jury selection in July. You can access Gina’s articles on her Facebook page.

If you have trouble accessing the Skagit Valley Herald articles because of their limitations, try going to the links through a different browser (Safari, Chrome, etc.).

If you use Twitter, good sources for real-time updates during tomorrow’s sentencing are likely the following:

@Gina_SVH    This is Gina Cole, the reporter mentioned above.

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

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

Follow updates on Twitter at #WilliamsTrial.

I have written extensively about this case over the past year, and I wrote about the trial every day that I attended. It’s hard to feel anything but sorrow, even as I believe justice was the outcome of the trial. Folks will be visiting Hana’s grave in the Sedro-Woolley cemetery after the sentencing hearing Tuesday morning, and I hope to get further word about a grave marker/headstone.

I will continue to write about Hana’s legacy.

May Hana never be forgotten. May Immanuel grow strong and unafraid.  May this horror never happen to another child.


Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

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.

July 24 Update: The Williamses’ Trial

Another long day of jury selection.  The lawyers focused in the morning on issues of reasonable doubt, burden of proof, and spanking, asking the jurors their thoughts on these subjects. The afternoon included discussion (in a general way, no specifics have been introduced about the case yet) of homeschooling, religion, spanking (again), food deprivation, and the possibility of looking at photos of a dead child and of the child’s autopsy. Many jurors were visibly moved by the discussion, especially those who hadn’t known about the case and were now getting a strong sense for what could be ahead.

There are still about 50 potential jurors left. In closing comments at the end of the day, Judge Cook said the plan was to start tomorrow (7/25) with jury selection at 9:30am and finish by noon. That will mean 12 jurors and 2 alternates will be agreed upon by both the prosecution and defense attorneys. The jury would then be sworn in and sent home. Motions by the attorneys will be heard by the judge tomorrow afternoon and Thursday (7/26.)

The lawyers will give their opening statements starting at 1pm on Friday (7/27), and then testimony will begin on Monday (7/29). All of this will take place in Skagit County Superior Courthouse, Courtroom 2.

While this timetable could change, my sense is that the lawyers and judge are ready to get going. It will be a long road ahead of 4 to 6 weeks of witnesses, testimony, and evidence.

I am guessing more media will appear on Friday, and I am hoping folks from the Ethiopian and adoption community will join us in the courtroom as the trial begins. The right side (as you face the judge) is the prosecution side. It’s not a huge courtroom; plan to arrive early.

Hoping for justice for Hana.