Adoptive parents of starved, abused teen take stand in own trial — Last week the parents accused of abusing to death their adopted Ethiopian daughter each took the stand in their own defense.

In May, 2011 Hana Williams died of hypothermia.

Prosecutors have accused the parents of, among other things, starving and beating the girl, as well as locking her outside in the cold.

Reportedly the girl was forced to take cold showers from a water hose outside, and was at times — when there was snow on the ground — allowed only to wear a pair of shoes.

Larry and Carri Williams, of Sedro-Woolley — a town about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia — have pleaded not guilty to homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter.

The parents could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted of the charges.

Homicide by Abuse Charge May Not Apply

However, as the Seattle Times reported

The homicide-by-abuse charge applies only if the victim was younger than 16, and Hana’s exact age has been at issue throughout the investigation. She is believed to have been 13 when she died, but documentation of her birth has been unavailable.

Prosecutors flew in Hana’s biological cousin, Tenssaye Woldetsadik, from Ethiopia to testify abouther age. But the prosecution was dealt a big blow when a judge threw out his testimony after he learned that county prosecutor Rich Weyrich bought the man jeans, shoes, sent him to the Seattle Center and spent about $100 on food.

The jury was not told why they have been instructed to forget the man’s testimony. Nor have they been told that Woldetsidik missed his flight back to Ethiopia, disappeared and is now accused of staying in the U.S. illegally.

On August 29, Carri Williams’ attorneys brought forward Dr. Jordan Haber, a radiologist from New York, who testified that in his opinion x-rays of Hana’s bones show she was somewhere between the ages of 15 and 17.

Carri and Larry Williams Testify

Larry Williams testified that he sometimes disagreed with wife Carri Williams’ ideas for discipline and regrets not intervening.

But the following day Carri Williams testified that her husband was an active and willing participant in the discipline of their children, contradicting some of his testimony.

She also told the court she believes that Hana was at fault for her own death.

“I believe that she unintentionally killed herself,” Carri Williams said.

She claimed she had not noticed that the girl had lost nearly 30 pounds in weight, because she rarely saw her daughter without the modest clothes every Williams family member wore.

She says that on the evening Hana was found dead — naked and face down in the mud — she had repeatedly asked the girl inside the house, but that Hana had refused to come inside.

But in August Sarah, one of the biological children, testified in court that her mother had told Hana to keep walking in order to keep warm on the cold May night.

“She was doing jumping jacks and standing and sitting to keep warm,” said Sarah.

But when the frail teen stopped, Sarah says her mom ordered her two older brothers outside to punish the girl.

“They were giving her spankings on the leg. Mom told them to,” Sarah said.

The next time anyone looked outside, Hana was dead, jurors were told. […]

Sarah says her brothers hit Immanuel and Hana repeatedly. Both boys were given immunity from any charges because prosecutors want jurors to hear they were told to do so by their parents.

Torture Chamber

The Williamses also are charged with first-degree child assault, tied to allegations they physically abused Hana’s younger brother.

Prosecutors say that Carri and Larry Williams turned their home into a torture chamber where they subjected Hana and her 12-year-old brother Emmanuel to horrendous abuse in the guise of discipline.

Hana and Emanuel were reportedly isolated from the family’s seven biological children, some of whom were encouraged to help ‘discipline’ the girl — who was targeted for abuse more frequently than her brother — by spanking her. Hana and her brother were also excluded from Christmas festivities and were often forced to eat outside.

Siblings have testified in court that Hana was given frozen food, as well as sandwiches soaked in water.

Jurors have been told that Hana was frequently forced to sleep in the barn, or in a shower or closet. The girl reportedly spent up to 23 hours at a time in a closet, the light switch of which was outside.

Did Religion Play a Role?

One of the couple’s biological sons told investigators that often when Hana was locked in that closet the parents played the Bible on tape and Christian music for her.

Reuters in 2011 reported that

The parents kept the family isolated from non-relatives, home-schooled the children and followed strict religious principles described in the Christian parenting book titled “To Train Up a Child,” investigators said. […]

But Prosecutor Rich Weyrich insisted that issues of faith were not a factor in the case against the couple. “Religion’s not an element we have to probe. We have to prove that the children were assaulted, tortured and died.”

It is worthwhile to note, though that in recent years a number of religion-related child abuse news stories have included a few paragraphs about the “To Train Up a Child” book. Many Christians criticize the teachings of the book’s authors, Michael and Debi Pearl of ‘No Greater Joy Ministries’.1


  1. A website titled, Why Not Train a Child, is a “clearing house of information and Christian arguments” against their teachings.
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 4, 2013.
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