For Hana Williams, it was a troubled transition from Ethiopia to the promised land of America. She wet the bed, rebelled against her strict Christian parents and was more than they and their seven biological children could handle. Less than 3 years after setting foot in her new Seedro-Woolley home, Hana was dead.
The question before jurors now is did Carri Williams and her husband Larry cause Hana’s death? The devout Christians admittedly did not spare the rod with their children, but prosecutors say they went to terrible extremes, hitting Hana and her younger brother with plastic plumbing pipes, hosing them down with cold water and forcing Hana to sleep in a barn or a four-foot-by-two-foot closet for weeks at a time.
"These things are not discipline or punishment," said assistant Skagit County prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula. "They constitute torture."
Prosecutors say the couple withheld food from Hana as a form of punishment and at the time of her death, the teenager weighed just 80 pounds. One cold, wet night in May 2011, she was sent outside as punishment wearing little more than cut-off sweatpants and a T-shirt. A few hours later she was dead from hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition.
"At one point as Hana was out there dying of hypothermia, her mother came out and hit her with a switch," said Kaholokula.
Defense attorneys, however, argue the couple’s parenting was poor, but it did not cause the girl’s death.
"She had no reason to believe that Hana, in her backyard, was suffering from hypothermia," said Laura Riquelme, representing Carri Williams.
The defense paints a picture of a strict but solid family where Carri homeschooled the nine children and her husband worked long hours at Boeing. They say Hana suffered from hepatitis and herpes and that she was removed from the other children for hygiene issues. At one point, they say, she smeared her menstrual blood on the bathroom door.
The night of her death, Riquelme says, Carri Williams ordered her daughter to come in out of the cold. She even sent the girl’s brothers to bring her in, but she wouldn’t budge. Williams set out dry clothing for the girl, but she never put it on.
"Carri said, 'That’s it.' She made numerous attempt to bring her in and decided she could come in on her own," Riquelme told jurors.
Later, Hana started falling down and taking off her clothes, both signs of hypothermia. She collapsed in the back yard and never regained consciousness.
"We’re not here to say that they are parents of the year," said Riquelme, "But you have to ask yourself, did they cause her death?"
Members of the area’s Ethiopian community are attending the trial. Metassibia Mulugeta said adopted children from foreign lands often pose special problems, but there are no excuses for what happened to Hana.
"You don’t know what kind of a child you are going to have," she said. "But you have that love and you want a child, so you prepare yourself."
There are also questions as to Hana’s age at the time of her death. She was believed to be 13 but adoption records are not clear. She could be as old as 16. If she was just 13 years old, her parents could be convicted of the more serious charge of homicide by abuse. Hana’s younger brother Emanuel, also an alleged victim of abuse by his adoptive parents, is expected to take the stand on Monday.