Jurors to decide fate for parents accused of torturing child

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - The longest murder trial in Skagit County history is now in the hands of a jury. The group will decide the fate of two parents accused of torturing and starving their adopted daughter.

It's no easy job as they compare the prosecutor's contention that Hana Williams grew up in a "house of horrors," with the defense argument that Hana Williams accidentally died from an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Empathy is the tone Carri Williams' defense attorney tried to strike, wrapping up his final appeal by admitting his client might be a bad mother, but not a killer.

"My client is guilty of many offenses for the abuse that she inflicted on these children, but she's not guilty of the charges the state has chosen to bring," defense attorney Wes Richards said.

Prosecutors say Carri and her husband Larry tortured and starved their two adopted children, and the abuse ultimately killed Hana Williams at their Sedro-Woolley home in 2011.

The day Hana died, prosecutors say she was banished to the backyard. It was raining hard, and the family found her unconscious in the mud a short time later.

"My daughter was completely naked, and just her shoulders and head were on the patio face down," Carri Williams said while on the stand last week. "Her face was completely flat in the mole hill."

Investigators say Carri Williams used boot camp methods for discipline, and on numerous occasions forced Hana to sleep in a shower, nursery closet, and a barn for stealing food.

An autopsy showed the girl died from hypothermia made worse by severe malnutrition and chronic gastritis.

The Williams' other children told investigators that Hana sometimes was beaten with a switch for standing more than 12 inches away from where she was told to stand or for speaking without permission.

"You might feel that she should see how a switch feels, but those aren't proper considerations for your deliberations," Richards said.

A witness told investigators that the Williams got their ideas for the disciplinary measures from a book, "To Train Up Your Child," which recommends switchings with a plumbing tool, cold water baths, withholding food and putting children out in cold weather as forms of punishment, court documents say.

The prosecutor's effort to charge homicide by abuse requires the victim to be younger than 16. Because Hana's birth certificate from Ethiopia is unclear, defense attorney Richards feels the charge may not apply.

Richards also maintains his client might be guilty of abuse, but not murder.

"There are certainly many things that Carri Williams could have done differently, should have done differently, but she wasn't indifferent to her daughter's well being," Richards said.

The couple is also accused of assaulting their adopted son, who testified against them during the trial.

The verdict will be announced when jurors finish deliberating.