10-year-old Hana Grace-Rose Williams and her 7-year-old brother, Emanuel, were born in Ethiopia. In 2008, they were adopted by Carri and Larry Williams through Adoption Advocates International and brought over to Sedro-Woolley, Washington, United States. When Hana came to the United States, she had ringworm, parasites and hepatitis B. Three years later, Hana would be dead. However, it was none of these things that killed her…
On the 12th of May, 2011, Hana was discovered naked and face down in the mud in the family’s backyard. According to Carri and Larry, Hana had become increasingly rebellious and had refused to come inside. They said that she began to throw herself on the ground and pretended that she couldn’t walk. Carri said she found Hana with mud in her mouth, not breathing. Hana’s cause of death was hypothermia.1
Following her death, the community were left wondering what had happened. How can a 13-year-old girl die of hypothermia in modern-day America? Many called for her death to be investigated with Mulumebet Retta, President of the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association, stating: “We just want the truth..”2 It was noticed during autopsy that Hana had suspicious marks across her body, including welts on the back of her legs and a lump on her head.
In August, it was announced that police in Skagit County were investigating the circumstances that led to Hana’s death. It would be discovered that Child Protective Services were contacted by law-enforcement officers and the county coroner who had come to find out that in the months leading up to Hana’s death, she had suffered significant weight loss. “They were concerned because she was outside at night when she died,” said CPS spokeswoman Sherry Hill. Furthermore, following Hana’s death, Carri and Larry became very uncooperative and forbid the seven other children living inside the home to speak with investigators in private.3
The other seven children living at the home were removed and placed into foster care while a family member informed the media that investigators had theorized that Hana had been placed outside as punishment. At the time of Hana’s death, it was only 42 degrees. A family friend would inform investigators that Carri had given her a book titled: “To Train Up A Child.” This book was written by Michael Pearl, a fundamentalist preacher who encourages parents to discipline their children with extreme corporal methods. He tells parents to use a plumbing tool to whip children, to give them cold water baths when potty training, to put them outside during cold weather and to have them miss meals. The book is extremely disturbing and essentially, tells parents they should be abusing their children to teach them.
It soon became apparent that the Williams had used this book and that Hana had been the victim of on-going abuse and neglect. “It teaches children through fear and so perpetuates criminal punishment of children,” said Chris Jamieson from CPS. Both Carri and Larry Williams were arrested and charged with homicide by abuse. They were ordered to be held on $500,000 bail each.4
In the charging papers, Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said that the couple had engaged in a pattern of assault or torture on Hana including depriving her of food, locking her in a dark closet and beating her with a plastic tube. The couple also forced Hana to sleep in a barn, shower outside with a hose and even sit outside alone while the rest of the family celebrated Christmas. When guests came over, Hana would be allowed to sit at the table but was only fed bread. When Hana was locked in the dark closet, Carri and Larry played the Bible on tape as well as Christian music.
Over the course of two years, Hana lost almost 30 pounds. She was so emaciated that when she was forced outside on the night she died, her body was unable to retain enough heat. According to a report on her death, she had died from “a culmination of chronic starvation caused by a parent’s intentional food restriction, severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse and stunning endangerment.”
In addition to the charges relating to Hana, Carri and Larry were also charged with assault of a child in the first degree in relation to Hana’s deaf brother, Emanuel. According to investigators, Hana and her brother were treated substantially different than the couple’s six biological children, who ranged in age from 7 to 17. According to other family members, both Hana and her brother were withheld food.
Then in November, the couple were also charged with first-degree manslaughter by domestic violence. The charging documents alleged aggravating factors in the manslaughter that “the offense was part of an ongoing pattern of psychological, physical or sexual abuse of a victim or multiple victims manifested by multiple incidents over a prolonged period of time.”5
The trial of Carri and Larry Williams began in July of 2013. Emanuel was one of the first witnesses to testify. Through a sign language interpreter, Emanuel told the jury that he and his sister were repeatedly beaten and punished with a water hose. “They would beat me very hard,” he said. “It was the same for my sister. The father would use a beating stick to beat us. If we wet the bed, they would use a water hose all over us, spray our bodies. They would hit me on the bottom of my feed and around the toes as well.”6
Emanuel said he witnessed Hana’s beatings and described her as being “sad and unhappy.” He said that Larry touched his private parts but this was stricken and the jury were told to disregard it. The prosecutor said that Emanuel may have been referring to Larry checking to see if he had wet his pants as opposed to something more sinister. According to a mental health therapist, Emanuel had post-traumatic stress disorder because of how he was treated by Carri and Larry.
His testimony was followed by graphic photographs of Hana’s body while Dr. Daniel Selove detailed Hana’s autopsy. He said that Hana weighed just 78 pounds and that her ribcage was visible. He said she was “abnormally thin” and pointed out various bruises, scrapes and other marks on Hana’s body which he said could have been caused by a switch.7
Both Carri and Larry would testify on their own behalf and both would turn on the other.
Carri once again stuck to her original story – that she had asked Hana to come inside that night but “she began throwing herself down.” She said that Hana had bumped her head and scraped her knees and that she believed that was “acting out.” She said that she sent three of her sons outside to hit Hana for not coming inside. She said that when Hana collapsed, she put a sheet over her naked body, stating: “Modesty is important in our family.”8 Carri went on to make the startling claim that Hana probably unintentionally killed herself.
Larry told the jury that he felt “responsible” and “ashamed” of what had happened. He said that sometimes, he disagreed with Carri’s ideas for discipline and that he regretted not intervening. He said that he worked long hours at Boeing and didn’t know the full extent of what was going on at home. “I’m the dad. My daughter died. Possibly, I could have done something to stop it, but I didn’t.” He said that on the night Hana died, he wasn’t sure how long she had been outside, whether she’d eaten and whether she’d been spanked. He had been at work when Carri phoned him to say Hana had collapsed.9
After a five week trial, Carri and Larry Williams were convicted of manslaughter in the first-degree and assault in the first-degree. The jury deadlocked on one charge – they convicted Carri of homicide by abuse but did not reach the same verdict for Larry. Carri was sentenced to just under 37 years in prison while Larry was sentenced to almost 28 years in prison.
- The Seattle Times, 30 September, 2011 – “Murder Charges for Parents who Left Adopted Girl Outside”
- NBC – 5 KING, 12 August, 2011 – “Ethiopian Community Wants Answers in Girl’s Death”
- The Seattle Times, 2 August, 2011 – “CPS Will Investigate Death of Adopted Girl”
- FOX – 13 KCPQ, 30 September, 2011 – “Book Advocating Extreme Discipline May be Connected”
- Skagit Valley Herald, 21 November, 2012 – “Prosecutors Add Manslaughter Charge to Williams Case”
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 30 July, 2013 – “Child Testifies About Beatings”
- Skagit Valley Herald, 31 July, 2013 – “William Girl Was Abnormally Thin”
- CBS – 7 KIRO, 28 August, 2013 – “Carri Williams, Accused of Child Abuse, Took the Stand”
- Daily World, 28 August, 2013 – “Father Testifies About Shame, Regret”