Despite pleas from their attorneys and even their pastor, the judge showed no mercy to Skagit County couple Larry and Carri Williams for the death of their adopted daughter. The two received the maximum sentences allowable under the law.
“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.”
Cook sentenced Carri Williams to 37 years in prison. Her husband Larry, convicted of lesser charges, was sentenced to just under 28 years. Both terms are well above the standard sentencing range.
“Mr. Williams’s sentence amounts to a backdoor way to punish him for a crime he was not convicted of,” said his attorney Rachel Forde.
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.
Thirteen-year-old Hana died of hypothermia brought on by severe malnutrition in her back yard in 2011.
During sentencing, friends of the couple argued they are good people with children who had behavioral problems they couldn't handle. The children were adopted from Ethiopia.
“Larry and Carri Williams are two of the truest and purest people on this earth,” said Ruth Dueck.
“I have known Larry and Carri to be loving parents with the ability to raise children appropriately,” said the family pastor, Richard Long. “I also firmly believe they have the ability to be healthy, contributing members of society.”
Judge Cook, however, would have none of it.
“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," said Judge Cook.
Members of Seattle's Ethiopian community came to honor Hana's memory by speaking for the girl who silently endured so much.
“Those who promised to love and care for (her) broke a sacred trust,” Elsabet Legesse told the court. “Under the guise of parenting, they tortured (her) to break (her) spirit.”
Also during sentencing, prosecutors divulged that Immanuel, the surviving adopted son, asked to never see the couple again. Immanuel had testified that the couple used sticks or belts to beat him all over his body as punishment. He also described being sprayed with a water hose if he wet his pants. Now in foster care and back in school, the boy told a caseworker that even though they are headed to prison for a very long time, he feels he can't completely escape them.
“He still has a fear that Mrs. Williams will come and take him away,” said prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula.
Judge Cook added, “These two children who had already endured the loss of their parents in Ethiopia were brought to this country by the defendants for a better life, but hey fell into a black hole. At the bottom of that hole they did not find the land of milk and honey. They found the land of frozen vegetables and water soaked sandwiches.”
After the arrests, the boy and six biological children were placed in foster care or with relatives.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.