Parents guilty in adopted daughter’s death
A Sedro-Woolley couple were convicted Monday in the malnutrition-and-hypothermia death of a teenage girl they had adopted from Ethiopia.
Skagit Valley Herald
MOUNT VERNON — Larry and Carri Williams caused their adopted Ethiopian daughter’s death, a Skagit County jury found Monday.
Carri Williams was convicted of homicide by abuse in Hana Williams’ death. The jury was not able to reach a decision on whether Larry Williams was also guilty of that crime, and the judge declared a mistrial for that charge.
The couple from the Sedro-Woolley area were also convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the teen girl’s death, and of first-degree assault of a child for abusing a younger boy, Immanuel, they adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 at the same time as Hana.
In finding Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse, the jury apparently determined that Hana was younger than 16.
The girl’s age was key to the case because the homicide-by-abuse charge applies only if the victim was younger than 16 at the time of death. Various experts who saw Hana’s body — it was exhumed during the trial — were not able to place her age definitively.
Each charge is a Class A felony, carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich is recommending 14 to 18 years for Larry Williams and 27 to 37 years for Carri Williams. Larry Williams spent almost two years in jail while the case was pending and could get credit for serving that time.
Judge Susan Cook has final say on sentencing, which could be several weeks away.
Cook set Larry Williams’ bail at $750,000 and Carri Williams’ at $1.5 million.
An appeal is likely, lawyers for both defendants said.
“That, you can count on,” said Skagit County Public Defender Wes Richards, who represented Carri Williams.
While Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde wouldn’t represent him in an appeal, she said she is confident it would go his way, calling Hana’s death a “tragic accident.”
She said both defendants were bad parents but not criminals.
The jury started deliberating this past Thursday after a seven-week trial.
When she released them from duty Monday, Judge Cook thanked the jurors and told them, “Take care of yourselves.”
At that, Larry and Carri Williams were led away in handcuffs.
The Williamses harshly disciplined their children, both the prosecution and defense agreed during the trial. But defense lawyers sought to portray the Williamses as misguided but well-intentioned parents, saying Carri worked to make the house peaceful and home-schooled their seven biological and two adopted children while Larry worked from noon to midnight as a millwright at Boeing.
The prosecution said the couple engaged in a pattern of abuse that left permanent physical scars and was tantamount to torture.
Hana collapsed face down in the mud in May 2011 in the family’s backyard. An autopsy showed she died of hypothermia, with malnutrition and a stomach condition as contributing factors. Her emaciated body was covered in scratches and bruises.
The 5-foot-tall girl, believed to be at least 13 years old, weighed just 78 pounds.
Carri Williams testified that she thought Hana was healthy, and that she was unaware of the extent of her weight loss — 30 pounds in the year before she died.
Witnesses throughout the trial described the adopted children being starved, beaten and tortured.
Hana spent her final months sleeping in a locked closet, showering outside with a hose, being forced to use a portable toilet behind a barn, being hit as many as 40 times a day and at times being barred from speaking to anyone.
The adopted boy, who is deaf, testified by sign language that he was sometimes hit on the top of his head or the bottom of his feet and that both he and Hana were served cold and frozen food.
Spectators filled the courtroom benches most days of the trial, including some family and friends of the Williamses sitting behind their defense teams.
Members of Seattle’s Ethiopian community drove up almost every day to sit on the prosecutors’ side in silent support of Hana.
Information from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.