Mother testifies adopted daughter ‘unintentionally killed herself’
Hana Williams’ adoptive mother told a Skagit County court Friday that the girl “unintentionally killed herself” and that she didn’t realize Hana had dropped 30 pounds until after she died.
Skagit Valley Herald
MOUNT VERNON — Carri Williams testified Friday morning that she thinks her adopted daughter Hana was at fault for her own death.
“I believe that she unintentionally killed herself,” Carri Williams said.
The girl collapsed the night of May 11, 2011, after several hours in the backyard of the family’s Sedro-Woolley home. Carri Williams has said Hana refused to come inside. An autopsy showed Hana died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition.
Carri Williams and her husband, Larry, are now charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death, as well as first-degree assault of the younger boy they also adopted from Ethiopia.
During cross-examination Friday, Carri Williams at times accused deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula of mischaracterizing what happened in the Williams home and once called her questioning rude.
Shown a family photo and asked to identify its contents, Carri Williams said: “I recognize that as being all my beautiful children that you ripped apart.”
“Someone ripped them apart,” Kaholokula said.
Without pausing, Carri Williams responded: “You did.”
She said she thought Hana was healthy, despite drastic weight loss that left the girl, whose exact age is in question, at about 80 pounds. Hana lost 30 pounds in the year before she died, according to her medical records.
The adopted son lost weight, too. The boy weighed 53 pounds when he arrived in 2008, gained some weight but then dropped to 50 pounds by 2010, medical records show. He grew 2 inches taller in that time.
Hana’s autopsy photos show her ribs and collarbone jutting out. Carri Williams confirmed Hana looked thin in the photos, but said she hadn’t seen that before because she rarely saw her daughter without the modest clothes every Williams family member wore.
Carri Williams said when she first saw Hana lying facedown in the dirt that May night, she thought she was pretending until she rolled her over.
Hana had removed her clothes — a sign of hypothermia that Carri Williams said she didn’t recognize. When she and her then-12-year-old daughter couldn’t carry Hana, Carri Williams put a sheet over the girl before asking a son to help.
Modesty wasn’t the only reason for the sheet, she said. “Her care was important to me, just as much as my son (not) seeing her naked.”
Hana had not eaten her dinner, Carri Williams said. That was unusual because Hana usually ate “every last bite,” she said.
But other events of the evening weren’t unusual, Carri Williams said.
Hana had been stumbling around, throwing herself to the ground, bloodying her hands and knees and hitting her head on the concrete patio. Carri Williams testified she thought Hana was doing it on purpose, that she’d “acted like she couldn’t walk” before.
“I couldn’t stand to see her do that to herself,” Carri Williams said, so she went inside then checked on Hana every five to 10 minutes from a door or window, imploring her to come in the house.
At no point did she call a doctor, she said, explaining it did not occur to her because this “was not new behavior.”
Earlier in the week, Larry Williams testified that many of the couple’s discipline tactics, including locking Hana in a closet and making her shower outside with a hose, were his wife’s ideas.
Carri Williams confirmed that in testimony on Thursday, but said her husband agreed to the methods, participated in them and contributed ideas of his own.
The adopted children, unlike their seven siblings, were fed frozen food and wet sandwiches, according to testimony. Besides the closet, Hana was sent to sleep in a locked shower room and, before that, a barn behind the house.
When Hana arrived in the United States, she looked very different from the girl the Williamses had seen in a video sent by the adoption agency. That raised questions about her actual age, Carri Williams said.
Hana’s age is crucial to the case because the charge of homicide by abuse applies only if she was younger than 16 when she died.
Various experts who examined her body have not been able to definitively place her age, instead giving ranges that span both sides of 16. A radiologist testified for the defense on Thursday that the girl was likely between 15 and 17 when she died, based on his examination of X-rays of her hands, wrists and hips.
The orphanage and adoption agency had said Hana was born in 1997, so the Williamses went with that. But they had their doubts, Carri Williams said.
“The adoption agency said it was a year that they made up,” she said.
In 2010, Larry Williams filled out a form to have her birth year changed to 1994 — making her 16, not 13 — but it had not been approved by the time she died.
A woman in a knitting group Carri Williams sometimes attended testified Carri had said she would kick out the “rebellious” Hana when she turned 18.
Deputy prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula brought up that comment in court Thursday.
“By claiming she was 16, you were that much closer to getting rid of her, right?”
“No,” Carri Williams said, frowning. “I did not want to get rid of my daughter.”