MOUNT VERNON — The night Hana Williams collapsed in her adoptive family’s Sedro-Woolley-area backyard, her 14-year-old adoptive brother told a sheriff’s deputy he thought Hana was possessed by demons, that deputy testified Monday.
Hana died in May 2011 of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition, according to an autopsy report. Her adoptive parents are accused of abusing the teen to death and assaulting their younger adopted son.
Larry and Carri Williams have each pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide by abuse, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault of a child.
Adopted boy finishes
The fifth week of the Williamses’ trial began Monday with their adopted son wrapping up what has been almost 12 hours of testimony over several weeks.
The boy, who is about 12 years old and deaf, has detailed missing meals, being sent outside to eat cold or frozen food away from the family, being hosed down with cold water if he wet himself, and being hit all over his body with various implements, including a plastic plumbing pipe and a belt.
“But, you know, I had to take my pants off, and then they would beat me,” he said Monday morning through sign-language interpreters.
The boy also said Carri Williams would rub the plastic plumbing pipe up and down his face, occasionally flicking his nose with it.
He repeated previous testimony that he and Hana broke strict family rules and were punished more than the other children, and sometimes were excluded from holiday celebrations.
Defense attorney Laura Riquelme showed him a family Christmas photo of him and his adoptive brothers holding pellet guns, asserting he got the same gift as the other boys and was playing with them.
“They gave me that for the picture only,” he said through his interpreters. “… I didn’t receive any Christmas gifts.”
Other Christmas photos admitted into evidence have shown the boy sitting alone off to the side, and biological Williams children have confirmed he was told to sit there.
Rachel Forde, one of Larry Williams’ attorneys, has repeatedly taken issue with sign-language interpreters’ use of various signs to mean words like “spank,” beat” and “whip.” She has asserted in court the boy is pretending not to understand certain words.
Finally, deputy prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula asked the boy if he has told the truth about everything he testified to in court.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he signed.
When attorneys indicated they had no further questions for the boy, Judge Susan Cook smiled at him and said, “You’re done!”
The boy stepped down just before 11 a.m. and Carri Williams turned to watch her adopted son walk out of the courtroom, her mouth trembling. He didn’t look at her.
Teenage son testifies
The Williamses’ 16-year-old biological son — the son who said he thought Hana was possessed by demons — continued his testimony next.
His parents’ attorneys asked him to confirm that although he did not want to talk to authorities or testify at previous hearings, he had told the truth throughout the investigation and at trial. The boy agreed.
“I’m answering these questions because I have to,” he said.
Prosecutors have granted the teen, along with his 18-year-old brother Jacob, a form of immunity in exchange for their testimony.
“I was advised (by my attorney) to plead the Fifth on every single question I was asked (in previous hearings),” he said, referring to his constitutional right not to answer certain questions on the stand.
In his testimony Thursday, Friday and Monday, the boy often told attorneys he did not remember things, once saying he did not remember something he had said the previous day.
Carri Williams spanked Hana during the six or so hours she spent outside the night she died, but only after asking her to come inside, the 16-year-old said.
The boy said he did not see Hana shivering leading up to her death, but she did remove her clothes. Both are signs of hypothermia.
Prosecutors are keeping the 16-year-old under subpoena for now, meaning he could testify again.
The start of the investigation
Sheriff’s deputies and detectives who responded to the Williams home and Skagit Valley Hospital the night Hana died have testified family members were cooperative.
The next day, as is standard practice when a child dies, investigators from Child Protective Services visited the Williams home to assess the safety of the other children.
Leanne King, one of the CPS investigators on that first visit, said Monday the second-oldest Williams son, then 16, met her in the driveway and told her to stay put. The oldest son then came out and did the same, she said.
Finally, Larry and Carri Williams came out of the house, agreeing to speak to investigators only while standing in the driveway. They did not appear distressed or sad, said King.
At one point, Larry Williams turned away and made a sobbing noise, but when he turned back his face looked the same and had no tears on it, King said.
It seemed like he “pretended to cry,” she said. Larry’s attorneys objected to her speculating on whether he was pretending and Judge Cook instructed the jury to disregard that comment.
Carri Williams wore sunglasses the whole time, and her demeanor was “rigid” and “defensive,” King said.
King and her colleague did not get to interview the children that day, but she did not remember the reason the Williamses gave for that.
Instead, the children came out in birth order with “big smiles” on their faces, “as though they were posing for a picture, perhaps,” King said.
“It was unusual to me, given they had experienced the death of their sister the night before,” she said.
In a March 2013 statement to attorneys, King said the children looked “very happy” that day.
Investigators from CPS and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office returned about two weeks later to interview each family member. The house was clean and its appearance offered no cause for concern, CPS investigator Heidi Kennedy said.
Carri Williams said Hana had been in good health the past year and that she had no idea why the girl died, Kennedy testified.
Carri Williams described little about the family’s disciplinary techniques, mentioning nothing about food, hoses, cold showers or places to keep the children isolated, Kennedy testified.
Larry and Carri Williams answered all of Kennedy’s questions and did not appear to disagree with each other at any point during the visit, Kennedy said.
Neither parent tried to stop the interviews with the children, Kennedy said, but they sat in on them, and Carri Williams interjected once.
“She said during the interview (with the adopted boy) that if you lie, you go to hell,” Kennedy said.
After that meeting, Carri Williams asked when the investigation would be closed, Kennedy testified.
“She said she was not interested in any services and wanted the case closed and we were not to interview the children without their permission,” Kennedy testified. “… She said we were not to show up at the house; that we should call and leave a message and she would return the call.”
Child Protective Services does not have the authority to remove children from a home on the spot, Kennedy said. After further investigation, King got a court order to have them removed.
The Williams children were taken out of their parents’ home in July 2011, about two months after Hana’s death.
The 16-year-old son testified Monday that when they were removed from the home, he told his siblings, “Don’t tell them anything.”