MOUNT VERNON — The boy adopted by the Williams family ate ravenously when he first entered foster care, his foster mother testified Wednesday. He cried when he talked about the Williams’ home, she said.
Sheila Jackson, the boy’s foster mother since shortly after Hana Williams died of hypothermia and malnutrition in May 2011 in the Williams back yard, told Skagit County deputy prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula the boy “ate really fast and he ate a lot,” when he came to live with her.
“I would say it (was) like feeding six or seven soldiers for one child,” Jackson told the court in sign language through an interpreter.
Larry and Carri Williams, the boy’s former adoptive parents as well as Hana’s, are charged with first-degree assault of a child in the alleged abuse of the son and homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
She said after a few months at her home, the boy started to share things with her about his time at the Williams’ home and when he did so, he showed fear.
Jackson also told the court she noticed scratches and other marks that were in the process of healing on the boy’s back when he first came to her home, as well as white marks and new skin in places.
The boy’s appetite subsided after a year and he began eating more normally, Jackson told the court. In that first year with Jackson, she said the boy gained about 20 pounds.
Mount Vernon Police Detective Theresa Luvera was called to the stand to testify about the method she used to interview the adopted boy after Hana’s death, known casually as the Harborview Method, for it being taught at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Larry Williams’ attorney Rachel Forde called attention to part of the guide book for the method where it says questions should be open and directed, and not include any information that hasn’t been introduced previously by the child.
Reading from the transcript of one interview with the adopted boy, Forde said Luvera used the word “angry” multiple times when he hadn’t used that specific word yet.
She also pointed out that the guide warns against others being present at interviews, and potentially becoming involved with the interview.
Forde pointed to the transcript of an October 2011 interview with the boy where his now-former teacher, Hope Star, was present as a support person but interjected several times.
Prosecutors have pointed out that Carri Williams interrupted her adopted son’s interview at one point to clarify his description of a scenario.
Luvera said Star did interject with a few words, but “not necessarily sentences.” The interjections, Luvera said, were for help clarifying words being translated from sign language, which made them different than Carri’s interjection.
Forde told the judge outside the presence of the jury that she thought the boy was highly suggestible, and she asserted various interviewers planted ideas in the boy’s head about what had transpired at the Williams home.
Forde also called attention to language in the guide about establishing that the child knows the difference between lying and telling the truth, and asked Luvera if she had gone over this in interviews with the adopted Williams boy.
She said she had.
Forde spent a large portion of examination of the boy one day asking if he knew what a lie was. She has asserted in court before that the boy is pretending not to understand certain words.
Kaholokula asked Jackson at length about the sign language she uses — both at home and outside of it — and the adopted Williams boy’s ability to speak sign language.
Jackson said he used “home signs” and primitive forms of sign language when he first came to her home, but began developing basic skills within the first few months.
Carri Williams’ attorney Laura Riquelme brought up Jackson’s lack of confidence in a deaf program the boy attends at his elementary school.
“Though this program is for deaf children, you don’t feel they’re actually teaching American Sign Language at this school, correct?” Riquelme asked.
“That school does not communicate with children in ASL, no matter what they say they do,” Jackson responded through an interpreter.
The defense has brought the boy’s testimony — vital to the prosecution’s case — into question based on issues of translating certain words like “spank” and “beat.”
Forde asked Jackson about behavioral problems the adopted boy had after biological Williams son there with him left her home. The boy apparently hit and bit his foster sister, one time beating her to the point her school called Child Protective Services to investigate.
Jackson confirmed for Forde that Family Preservation Services was called to her home to investigate the issues but she could not say if they were considering removing the boy or not.
“I never knew what they were planning to do,” she said. “I just went on with everyday life.”
He remained there.
Forde also asked if the counseling Jackson had been taking the boy to had made a difference in his problems. Jackson said she didn’t know what happened during the sessions, though the boy’s behavior has improved.
-- Reporter Daniel DeMay: 360-416-2192, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Daniel_SVH