Christian Parents Receive Massive Sentence for the Starving and Freezing Death of Their Adopted Daughter

“I have known Larry and Carri to be loving parents with the ability to raise children appropriately,” Richard Long stated for the record.

Long is the family pastor of Carri and Larry Williams. The Washington state couple had nine children — seven biological ones, plus two adopted from Ethiopia. Now there are eight; in 2011, adopted Hana Grace-Rose Williams, 13, died of starvation and hypothermia — the result of the parents’ sustained reign of terror that was inspired by a devoutly Christian book on disciplining kids.

This summer a jury convicted the Williamses of denying their children Hana and Immanuel food, beating them and making them sleep in closets or washrooms. They were fed a diet of sandwiches that had been soaked in water and vegetables that were still frozen. Some of the couple’s seven biological children sometimes took part in the abuse.

According to the New York Times,

Late one night in May [2011] … Hana was found face down, naked and emaciated in the backyard; her death was caused by hypothermia and malnutrition, officials determined. According to the sheriff’s report, the parents had deprived her of food for days at a time and had made her sleep in a cold barn or a closet and shower outside with a hose. And they often whipped her, leaving marks on her legs.

One of the beating implements favored by the Williamses was a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line of the kind advocated by evangelist Michael Pearl and his wife Debi, who run No Greater Joy Ministry in Tennessee. The Pearls, in their best-selling self-published book “To Train Up a Child,” recommend that Christian parents physically discipline children as young as six months with “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”

The tome has been implicated in the violent deaths of two other children – Lydia Schatz and Sean Paddock. The parents of Hana, Lydia, and Sean had several things in common, writes the Seattle Times:

They adopted children, home-schooled them, and lashed them with quarter-inch-diameter plastic tubes. They also used the child-rearing teachings of a Tennessee evangelist, Michael Pearl, and his wife, Debi.

To Richard Long, the Williamses’ pastor, their behavior might have been “loving” and “appropriate.” But Hana’s frozen corpse didn’t lie, and Judge Susan Cook wasn’t buying the good reverend’s apologia. Last week, she sentenced Larry Williams to almost 28 years in prison. His wife and co-defendant, who had arguably been the more enthusiastic abuser, received a 37-year term.

“I feel the punishment should match the outrage felt by this community,” said Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook. “I am at a complete loss. I think at some point in this trial each and every one of us sat stunned and speechless without the slightest hope of making any sense of this whatsoever. … What I see is one child dead, one child with PTSD, and seven biological children who apparently believe that degrading and dehumanizing another person is completely acceptable.”

The sentences are the highest allowable under law.

With any luck, this case will be the beginning of the end for the courts’ velvet-glove treatment of defendants who abuse and murder their children with an appeal to Christian privilege. I certainly hope that news of the whopping Williams prison terms has made it to Catherine and Herbert Schaible, the prayer-healing Christian couple awaiting trial in the homicide of the second child to die under their care.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.