MOUNT VERNON — Lawyers have already started the appeal process in the cases of Larry and Carri Williams, who were sentenced Tuesday to decades in prison for the death of their adopted daughter, Hana, and assault of their adopted son.
Carri Williams was sentenced to 36 years and 11 months in prison, the top of the standard sentencing range for her crimes of homicide by abuse and first-degree assault of a child for someone with no criminal history.
Larry Williams was sentenced to 27 years and nine months, an exceptionally high sentence. The standard sentencing range for his convictions, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault of a child, for someone with no criminal history, is about 14 to 19 years.
Defense lawyers argued to no avail that their clients deserved lighter sentences because they are not risks to the community or to re-offend.
But sentences are not merely for the community’s safety, Judge Susan Cook said; they reflect society’s “response to the conduct.” In this case, she said, the Williamses’ conduct was hard to even comprehend.
“I think, at one time or another during this trial, each and every one of us sat stunned and speechless,” Cook told the packed courtroom, calling the testimony of the remaining Williams children a “parade of horrors” that she’ll remember as long as she lives.
The jury deadlocked on the homicide-by-abuse charge against Larry Williams. That charge has since been dismissed.
Cook vacated Carri Williams’ manslaughter conviction because she was convicted of homicide by abuse for the same conduct.
While their appeals are pending, Carri Williams’ bail is set at $1.5 million and Larry Williams’ at $750,000. The pair will be moved to state Department of Corrections custody later this week.
The sentencing came exactly three months after the start of testimony in the seven-week trial. The first witness, their adopted son, detailed the abuses he and Hana suffered at the hands of their adoptive family: being beaten with a plastic plumbing line, starved or fed almost inedible food, hosed off in the yard and locked in a shower room or closet all night.
Now, almost two and a half years after Hana’s death, the boy is beginning to heal, his foster mother told prosecutors. He still has nightmares that Carri Williams climbs in his window at night to take him back, and his post-traumatic stress disorder will require years of therapy, deputy prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula said Tuesday.
The boy was happy but shocked to hear the verdicts, Kaholokula said.
“He thought they were going to ‘win,’ ” she said, “and in his experience, they do always win.”
The court has ordered Larry and Carri Williams to have no contact with the boy for life.
Five of the seven biological Williams children are minors and still in foster care. These children were forced to witness and, in some cases, participate in the abuse of their adopted siblings, Kaholokula said.
Tuesday’s sentencing hearing was a chance for the public to help argue for a harsher or lighter sentence. A few people addressed Cook in person; others, including the two oldest Williams sons, submitted letters.
“This incident regarding (the adopted children) was the result of the total unpreparedness of my parents to take in two children(*) who were entirely unfamiliar with our nation, culture and way of life,” wrote Joshua Williams, who is stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. He pleaded with the court to reunite his family. “… Is it not punishment enough to watch helplessly as your entire life crashes down around you?”
Members of Seattle’s Ethiopian community, who followed the trial and drove an hour each way to sit in the courtroom most days, wrote a letter addressing the sentence.
“Those who promised to love and care for you broke a sacred trust,” they wrote. “Under the guise of parenting, they tortured you and broke your spirit. Perhaps because they failed in that, they subjected you to cruelty that no loving parent would ever subject their child to. You suffered in isolation where no one can hear your cries for help. In this land of plenty, you were denied the sustenance of life. … In cutting your life short, they shattered your hopes, dreams and aspirations. They silenced you so you may never speak of the torment you suffered.”
Cook’s comments echoed this view as she handed down the sentences, saying Hana came to the land of milk and honey only to find frozen food and water-soaked sandwiches.
After the court adjourned, a large group of Ethiopians visited Hana’s gravesite in Sedro-Woolley, bringing candles, homemade bread and fresh flowers. One read an Amharic poem for Hana; another sang a song.
They and many other members of the public have been raising money to buy a headstone to replace the tiny marker on the ground bearing Hana’s name. So far, their efforts have been thwarted because the Williams family owns the grave plot.
In his letter to Cook, Joshua Williams pointed out that before this case, his parents had never been reported to Child Protective Services, and they passed all the necessary interviews and investigations to adopt. He asked Cook to consider this “track record” in her decision.
Cook saw it differently.
The Williamses’ track record, she said, was this: one child dead, one with PTSD, and seven who thought the kind of degrading treatment the other two endured was acceptable.
* This quote has been corrected to include words that were inadvertently omitted.