Did the Williamses take discipline too far?
Devout Christians, Carri and Larry Williams lived in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, with their seven biological kids and two adopted children.
Following a complication with the birth of their last child, Carri had been unable to have more.
So in 2008, they adopted a 7-year-old Ethiopian boy who was deaf. It was meant to be…
Carri had studied American Sign Language. The perfect mum for this lad. They also adopted Hana. Both had reportedly been abandoned.
So the children flew to the United States. Hana was thin, but soon filled out.
Carri schooled all the children, while Larry worked for an aircraft firm. The children’s upbringing was disciplined.
Whispers of Hana’s ‘rebellious’ behaviour reached the community.
A few weeks later, after midnight on 12 May 2011, Carri phoned emergency services. ‘My daughter isn’t breathing,’ she said. She explained Hana, 13, had been in the garden in the cold and rain, refusing to come inside.
‘She was throwing herself to the ground and staggering around the yard after taking her clothes off,’ she explained.
The operator talked Carri through CPR and sent an ambulance. Hana couldn’t be revived. A tragic accident.
But the teenager’s thin body was covered in bruises and bloody marks on her body. She had mud in her mouth.
An autopsy said Hana had died of hypothermia, malnutrition and gastritis – inflammation of the stomach lining.
Just 5ft tall, she weighed 5st 5lb – over 2st less than in 2009 when she’d had a routine checkup at the doctor’s.
She’d been dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. Strange for a cold night… Hana also had a shaved head – a far cry from the long hair she loved.
The remaining Williams children were interviewed and investigators found a controversial book on ‘training’ children in the house. It cited Biblical verses supporting the use of a ‘rod’ for punishment.
The Williams’ children were placed with relatives or in foster care.
On 29 September 2009, Carri and Larry Williams were charged with the manslaughter of Hana, and assault of their adopted son.
They stood trial, with Carri also accused of homicide by abuse.
The adopted boy and five of the biological children gave evidence. He described being given frozen food for dinner, how he’d had to sleep in closets and was hosed down with cold water if he wet the bed.
He told of being beaten and how he and Hana were often forced to sleep outside.
However, the defence painted the young deaf boy as a disobedient troublemaker.
Carri, 42, insisted Hana had killed herself. And lawyers argued that questionable parenting practices didn’t necessarily amount to a crime.
So, were Carri and Larry guilty of beating Hana and withholding food – ultimately killing her? Or were they a kind family, whose discipline backfired? Were they strict parents or killers?
Larry and Carri were found guilty of the manslaughter of Hana, 13, and of assault on their adopted son.
Carri was sentenced to 37 years. Larry received 28 years. Both plan to appeal.
By Rachel Tompkins