Carri and Larry Williams of Washington State were convicted by a jury on Monday in the May 2011 death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter, Hana Alemu (her Ethiopian name), officially known as Hana Williams, reported BBC.
An investigation found the couple severely beat and starved Hana and isolated her outdoors. On the day of her death, Hana had reportedly been kept outside in rainy, 40-degree weather for hours. Carri Williams discovered her in the backyard, face down, reported LatitudeNews.com. A coroner determined she died of hypothermia and malnutrition.
No documentation of Hana's birth was available, so an exhumation of her body determined Hana, who was adopted in 2008, was about 13 years old. Her age was significant because a charge of homicide by abuse is only applicable if the victim is under the age of 16, reported the globeandpost.com. During the seven-week trial, Carri Williams' attorney solicited an expert to try to prove that Hana was actually closer to 16, reported USA Today.
Carri was found guilt of homicide by abuse and manslaughter, and her husband was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. The couple were both found guilty of first-degree assault of their 10-year-old son, also adopted from Ethiopia.
Their defense lawyers argued that bad parenting practices did not mean that a crime was committed. Both Carri and Larry claimed innocence throughout the trial and repeatedly blamed each other for Hana's death, reported the Skagit Valley Herald.
Carri and Larry will be sentenced in October and face up to life in prison; they are expected to appeal the verdict. Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook set Larry Williams’ bail at $750,000 and Carri Williams’ bail at $1.5 million.
The couple, who resided in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, a rural town between Seattle and the Canadian border, also had six biological children.
"It was a very sad, sad story," said Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney 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."
BBC reports that the family allegedly followed disciplinary methods from the book How to Train a Child.
Outrage Erupts Among Ethiopian Community
Washington’s Ethiopian community has reacted to Hana’s death with outrage and grief—and ultimately with action. Ethiopian diaspora blogs and the Awramba Times, a Seattle newspaper written in Amharic, the Ethiopian national language, have expressed horror at the Ethiopian government for “selling” their children, reported LatitudeNews.com.
Washington State, home to about 15,000 Ethiopians, is the country’s third largest Ethiopian community behind California and the Washington D.C. area. Community leaders estimate the true number of Ethiopians in the state hits closer to 40,000.
In August, the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association of Greater Puget Sound launched the Hana Fund to support families who adopt from Ethiopia. The purpose of the fund is prevent cases of abuse and assault in adoptive families via a program of outreach and crisis intervention, and via cultural awareness, education and counseling.
“We are here as a friend, as an aunt, as a grandmother, or even as a mother to support you—because raising a child is not easy. Especially with the cultural differences,” says Metassibia Mulugeta, who leads educational programs for the Ethiopian Community Center, founded by the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association in 1983 as a support system for refugees.
For more information about the Hana Fund, visit http://ecseattle.org/2011/10/press-release/.