MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – A girl whose adoptive parents are accused of abusing her to death was likely “at least 15” years old, a forensic dentist who examined her teeth testified Friday morning at the parents’ trial.
But the girl’s biological cousin, who testified Friday afternoon, said she would have been 13 when she died because he remembers when she was born.
Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in their adopted daughter Hana’s death. They also are charged with first-degree assault in connection with alleged abuse of their adopted son. They have each pleaded not guilty.
For the homicide-by-abuse charge to apply, prosecutors must prove Hana was younger than 16 when she died. The girl’s exact age has been at issue throughout the investigation.
Hana was believed to be about 13 when she died, according to the birth date estimate on her adoption records. Her cousin, Tenssay Kassaye Woldetsadeik, recalled her being born in 1989 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is about eight years behind the calendar used in the Western world.
Woldetsadeik said his sisters raised Hana, whose mother left shortly after she was born and whose father died when she was about 3. He said he watched her grow up until the extended family could no longer afford to take care of her, at which point they took her to an orphanage at about age 9. She was adopted two years later, he said.
Hana’s body was exhumed in January to settle the matter, but experts who examined it came to different conclusions about her age and could not definitively place it on one side of 16 years or the other.
Gary Bell, a forensic dentist who has helped identify bodies for the FBI, military and Washington State Patrol, took X-rays of Hana’s teeth and compared them to studies showing typical tooth development for children of various ages. Those comparisons offered a possible age range for Hana, with the most likely result in the middle of the range.
“My opinion is that she’s at least 15 years old, but she could be anywhere from 13 to 18,” he said.
Also on the stand Friday were Larry Williams’ sister and brother-in-law, Karolyn and Bill Cheney. Both testified they never noticed cuts, marks or bruises on any of the children.
When Hana died, they had not seen the adopted children in more than a year.
Karolyn Cheney said that looking into the casket at Hana’s funeral, she noted the girl’s shaved head, slender face and “not full” body.
“I didn’t recognize her as Hana,” she said.
When it came time to put the casket in the grave, Karolyn Cheney said she saw Carri Williams drape her body over her adopted daughter’s casket and sob loudly, “Hana, I’m so sorry.”