MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – When Hana Williams collapsed in the backyard of her adoptive family’s Sedro-Woolley-area home, her eight siblings were under instructions from their mother not to speak to her, Hana’s adoptive brother testified Friday morning.
As a form of punishment, Hana sometimes was not allowed to speak unless spoken to for a day or two at a time, the 16-year-old boy said. No other children were punished that way, but the Williamses’ deaf adoptive son has testified the family was once told not to sign to him.
Hana died in May 2011 of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition, according to an autopsy report. Larry and Carri Williams are accused of abusing the teen to death and assaulting their younger adopted son. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide by abuse, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault of a child.
The 16-year-old boy testifying for most of Friday first took the stand Thursday afternoon after his 18-year-old brother, Jacob, had testified for several hours.
Prosecutors have granted the two boys, who have been living with cousins in Spokane, a form of immunity in exchange for their testimony. The two had said through their attorneys they intended to assert their Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions on the stand, doubling down on that plan after their adoptive brother testified they hit him in the same ways their parents did.
The 16-year-old said Friday he had not played down any of his previous testimony out of fear that he’d be charged with a crime or a desire to protect his parents.
The boy also said Friday he did not remember many of the things he has said in past testimony, including a statement from the previous day. He said Thursday he’d seen Carri Williams strike Hana the night she died, but on Friday, he said he didn’t remember that. The two oldest sons, Joshua and Jacob, each also hit Hana with a switch the night she died, according to previous testimony from Jacob and the 16-year-old.
The boy also discussed various punishments the adopted children endured in the house and who doled them out. For example, Carri Williams spanked Hana for continuing problems with her handwriting and bed-making, and once had her hair shorn off as a punishment for cutting the grass too short, several biological Williams children have testified. The adopted boy was once spanked for trying to sneak some of the food the rest of the family had for dinner when he’d been served something else to eat outside, he said.
Hana, too, was disciplined for taking food without permission. She was locked up at night in a shower room, barn or closet because she’d been caught stealing leftover dinner food, Jacob Williams said Thursday. At times, she could be in the shower room or closet almost a whole day, the 16-year-old Williams boy testified in an August 2011 hearing. The closet became her bedroom for the final six months of her life.
The adopted children were the only two who ever had to sleep in the shower room, the 16-year-old Williams boy said Friday.
He also explained that the Williamses gave their three oldest sons the authority to discipline the younger children, and that he sometimes spanked his younger siblings, including the adopted ones.
The boy said he was hit with the switch once during the three years the adopted children were in the house, but he could not remember the circumstances. His older brother said Thursday that by their final year in the house, the adopted children were being spanked or somehow punished almost every day.
Friday was the first time a witness has been asked about the book “To Train Up a Child,” by Michael and Debi Pearl. The Williamses had a copy in their home and have explained to acquaintances that they used the methods in the book to punish their children into obedience, according to a 2011 affidavit from the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office. The plastic plumbing pipe Larry and Carri used matches the one recommended in the book.
Prosecuting attorney Rosemary Kaholokula had the 16-year-old boy confirm the book was in their home. He said he’d never read it but knew it was “a book to show how to raise your children.”
Attorneys spent much of the 16-year-old’s testimony asking him about the night Hana died. The boy had seen her several times when he looked out a kitchen window, and had helped his mother and older brothers carry her unconscious body inside from the rain around midnight.
The boy said he did not see Hana shivering and did not see goosebumps on her body. One of the Williamses’ biological daughters testified last week that Hana did not seem cold. Carri Williams told Hana to do exercises such as jumping jacks to stay warm, the 16-year-old said Friday. No one brought her a jacket, he said, but she never asked for one.
The 16-year-old said Friday he was “confused” when Child Protective Services removed him and his siblings from the home, and that he still feels that way two years later. On Friday, his voice shaking, he said he hopes the outcome of the case will be “that our family is back together.”