Yesterday, Larry and Carri Williams were found guilty of manslaughter in the 2011 death of their daughter, Hana. Larry was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and Carri was found guilty of both manslaughter and homicide by abuse. Janet Heimlich sums up Hana’s story as follows:
I first learned about the case when Larry and Carri Williams were arrested in September of 2011. I happened to be in Seattle, about an hour away from the couple’s gated-community suburb of Sedro-Woolley, where I was giving talks about religious child maltreatment. The details of the case were startling: Hana, estimated to be fourteen years of age, died in the backyard of the family’s home. She was grossly underweight and had been left outside on a very cold night for hours. Eight children had been removed by Child Protective Services. Their parents were charged with murder. A local TV station interviewed me about the case.
After reading the news reports and affidavits of witnesses, I began picking up on some familiar-sounding details: Larry and Carri Williams expected complete obedience of their children, especially Hana and Immanuel; the parents, who were devout Christians, played audio recordings of Bible verses when they locked Hana in a dark closet for many hours; and investigators found in the home To Train Up a Child.
I know that book well. It is a parenting guide written by Tennessee-based preacher Michael Pearl who operates a website called No Greater Joy. To Train Up a Child has been harshly criticized for its reliance on physical punishment of children. I had written about Pearl in my book, Breaking Their Will; later, I would appear with him in a video debate on a Christian website and blog about him.
Hana was not the first child to die in a home run by followers of Michael Pearl. Both 4-year-old Sean Paddock and 7-year-old Lydia Schatz had been killed by adoptive parents who had had a copy of To Train Up a Child in their homes and had used similar techniques advocated by Pearl. Those techniques included being whipped with 1/4-inch-wide plumbing line, a form of torture that both Hana and Immanuel Williams also suffered.
Based on court testimony, which included statements made by Immanuel, Carri and Larry Williams were obsessed with child obedience. When investigators interviewed their biological children, they noted that they appeared to be strangely cheery and were often looking at their parents, as if to be sure they answered questions the way their parents wanted them to. All children risked punishment if they disobeyed their parents’ orders. If Hana or Immanuel were perceived to be rebellious, they were beaten and made to sleep in a shower room. Hana was made to sleep in a locked closet with a light switch on the outside. Sometimes, she was made to sleep in a barn, even in cold temperatures. She and her brother were denied food or fed food that was inedible, such as wet sandwiches or frozen food. Sometimes, the emaciated Hana was punished for stealing food.
Larry and Carri Williams claimed they were innocent due to ignorance. They testified that they didn’t know that their adoptive daughter had dropped thirty pounds. Each said that the other was responsible for disciplining the children. Carri Williams called Hana “oppositional,” that she was repeatedly disobedient and out of control. Larry, who was not at home the evening that Hana died, said that he had objected to beating the children because he could see that it didn’t change Hana’s behavior. At one point, he admitted to hitting his adopted son on the bottom of his feet at Carri’s urging. “I couldn’t do it again,” said Larry. “Just the one time, because I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
In the end, both parents were found guilty of manslaughter and child abuse. In addition, Carri was found guilty of the more serious crime of homicide by abuse. The judge will decide the sentencing. Both the Williams’s could be sentenced to life in prison.