Washington state couple charged in adopted daughter's death

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 30, 2011 9:03 PM
Washington state couple charged in adopted daughter's death

By Nicole Neroulias

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A Washington state couple who prosecutors said beat and starved their adopted 13-year-old Ethiopian-born daughter and forced her to sleep outdoors were charged on Friday with homicide over her death.

Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, a town about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada, were arrested on Thursday and jailed on $500,000 bond. Each was charged with homicide by abuse and assault of a child in the first degree.

Hana Williams, who was adopted from Ethiopia by the couple in 2008, died on May 12 after she was found unconscious in her family's backyard in temperatures hovering around 40 degrees.

Prosecutors said the abuse she and her adopted 10-year-old Ethiopian-born brother endured included beatings, starvation and being made to sleep outside and use an outdoor toilet.

After her death, the hospital and coroner called in Child Protective Services, marking the first time the agency was notified about any of the seven biological or two adopted Williams children, said Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the state's Children's Administration.

"We were concerned at the time of Hana's death, as were the medical professionals, that it appeared she had experienced significant weight loss and that she had died from hypothermia," Hill said.

The eight surviving children were placed into foster care in mid-July after the Williams parents refused to allow them to speak with investigators privately, she said. Their oldest son has since turned 18 and decided to move back home.

The investigation into the Williams family, including whether the biological children were abused, was continuing, she added, adding that the process can take months.

"We worked with the coroner and we had our medical consultants review the records to make sure that we had all the information we needed to make a good decision about the rest of the children and that we didn't jump to any conclusions," she said. "We didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the investigation."

The 10-year-old Ethiopian-born son is hearing-impaired and joined the family at the same time as Hana, but was not her biological sibling, Hill said.

"He was treated nearly as badly as Hana was: having food withheld for punishment, being hit with a plumbing cord, forcing him out in the cold for punishment," she said.

The Williams children had been homeschooled, but now some are attending public schools, Hill said. Each has been placed in a foster home with at least one sibling, she added, to make the adjustment easier.

All the children were very isolated and had very little contact with non-family members, Hill said. They live in a gated community in a rural area on about 5 acres.

"Our concern is the isolation they experienced," Hill said. "We do rely on schools and teachers to report abuse to us, because they see the children and they're probably the first ones to notice when something has changed with a child."

Larry Williams, 47, and Carri, 40, were being held in Skagit County Jail, and were next scheduled to appear in Skagit County Superior Court on October 10.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)