Mother left her adopted daughter to die outside in cold

Teenager adopted with her brother from Ethopia was starved, beaten and locked overnight in the backyard. Now her parents are facing jail

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 3:04am

An American woman accused of starving her adopted daughter and locking her outside, where she died from hypothermia, has been found guilty of homicide.

Hana Williams, 13, was found outside unconscious in May 2011 in the backyard of her home in Washington state. It was shortly after midnight and temperatures were hovering around 4 degrees Celsius, authorities said. She had been adopted from Ethiopia in 2008.

Her mother, Carri Williams, was convicted on Monday of homicide by abuse and of manslaughter, while the father, Larry Williams, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, the Skagit County Prosecutor's Office said.

"It was a very sad, sad story," said Skagit County prosecuting lawyer Rich Weyrich. "It was something that shouldn't have happened.

"Fortunately, we were able to prove the charges, so we were able to hold them accountable."

The case is among several in recent years that have drawn attention to the vulnerability of children from overseas adopted by American families, among them the death in January of 3-year-old Russian adoptee Max Shatto.

Texas authorities determined that Shatto succumbed to self-inflicted injuries and his parents were not charged in his death, but Russian officials seized on the case as justification of a 2012 ban on adoptions by Americans.

Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley - a town about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia - were arrested in September 2011, more than four months after Hana died in their backyard.

Investigators say Hana endured included beatings, starvation, being forced to sleep outside and use an outdoor toilet and that she had lost a significant amount of weight since her adoption. Prosecutors said her 10-year-old brother, who also was adopted from Ethiopia, was similarly mistreated.

The parents kept the family isolated from non-relatives, home-schooled the children and followed strict religious principles described in the Christian parenting book To Train Up a Child, investigators said.

Although investigators found the couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by the controversial parenting book, prosecutors have said religion was not relevant to the criminal case.

Appearing in court last month during the seven-week trial, Carri Williams was at once tearful and defiant under cross-examination by prosecutors. Shown a photo of her children, she accused prosecutors of having "ripped apart" her family.

"I did the best I could with what I knew," she said.

In addition to the charges linked to Hana's death, both parents were found guilty of assault of a child stemming from mistreatment of their 10-year-old son.

The jury deadlocked on whether the father was guilty of homicide by abuse, a more serious charge than manslaughter, said Vickie Maurer, an office administrator for Weyrich. Weyrich said his office was undecided on whether to retry the husband on the homicide charge.

Both parents could face a maximum penalty of up to life in prison due to aggravating factors in the crime, although prosecutors said the judge had discretion in how lengthy their incarcerations would be.

The Williamses will be sentenced next month by Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook.

Lawyers for the couple could not be reached for comment.

Nearly 10,000 children were adopted into the United States from Ethiopia between 2008 and 2012, according to US State Department figures - more than from any country other than China.