A foster mother testifying in the trial of a Washington state couple accused of abusing their adopted Ethiopian daughter to death told the jury Wednesday that their other son was rail-thin and covered in scratches when she took him in.
The testimony from Sheila Jackson came on day 18 of the murder trial of Larry and Carri Williams, from Sedro-Woolley — a town about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The couple allegedly left their 13-year-old adopted daughter, Hana, to starve and die in the cold in May 2011 after brutally punishing her and her step-brother, Immanuel.
Happier times: Hana Williams, seen in this undated photo looking healthy, was found frozen and starved to death in the yard of her adoptive parents’ home in 2011
Jackson, who is deaf, told the jury in a Mount Vernon courtroom that when the Williamses’ son Immanuel, who was also adopted from Ethiopia, came to live with her, she could barely keep up with his demands for food.
‘He ate fast. He ate a lot. He ate more than I expected,’ she told on the stand, the station KIRO-TV reported
Following the couple’s arrest, Child Protective Services removed Immanuel, who is deaf, and seven other children from their home.
Larry and Carri Williams have been charged with assaulting Immanuel and killing their adopted 13-year-old daughter, who was found starved and frozen to death in their backyard in May 2011.
Sheila Jackson said the boy was terrified to talk about his adoptive parents.
Bad memories: Immanuel, who was adopted by the couple from Ethiopia along with Hana, testified that he had endured beatings and abuse as punishment for misbehaving
Angelic: Hana, pictured second left, seen as a young girl with her family back in Ethiopia
According to the foster mother, the child was so emaciated that his ribs were showing through his skin covered in markings from past beatings.
Immanuel, now 12 years old, testified during the trial that the Williamses beat him and Hana with belts and switches.
The parents kept the family isolated from non-relatives, home-schooled the children and followed strict religious principles described in the Christian parenting book titled ‘To Train Up a Child,’ investigators said.
As punishment for bad behaviour, the teen told the court that he and his step-sister were fed frozen meals, hosed down and forced to sleep in closets, where they would listen to recordings of the Bible on tape and Christian music.
The defense has attempted to paint Immanuel as a disobedient boy with an attitude problem.
The lawyers for the couple said Immanuel hit and bit Jackson’s daughter so badly that her teacher ended up calling CPS after the child came to school with bruises.
Sheila Jackson said that Immanuel has been getting counselling and his behaviour has been improving.
In 2008, Immanuel was 7 years old when the American couple, both devout Christians, adopted him and Hana from Ethiopia. Larry worked at Boeing while his wife was a stay-at-home mom home-schooling the two adopted kids and their seven biological children.
In his testimony last month, the 12-year-old told the court that his adopted parents would beat him with a stick until blood was running down his face.
Other disciplinary measures included having Immanuel hosed down in the yard for bed-wetting and keeping him and Hana outside in the cold.
Tough disciplinarians: Hana and her adoptive brother were allegedly spanked, hit with sticks, hosed down and forced to eat frozen food
Cruel death: Hana’s emaciated body covered in bruises was found face down in the mud in the backyard of the family’s home in Sedro-Woolley, Washington
Cause of death: An autopsy showed that the 13-year-old died from hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition and gastritis
‘I would suffer with the pain until it eventually went away,’ he said in sign language July 29.
Larry’s attorney, Rachel Forde, characterized the Ethiopian boy as a troublemaker who lied to his adoptive parents and refused to do lessons assigned by his mother.
While the couple’s biological children, five of whom had testified during the trial, were generally treated better, the strict rules in the Williams household applied to them as well.
According to Joseph Williams, however, he and his siblings were given the authority to punish and even spank their adopted brother and sister, KIRO-TV reported.
Last Friday, Joseph was called to the stand to describe the night of May 12, 2011, when his 13-year-old adopted sister died.
Joseph Williams told the court that after Hana died while sitting in the yard in 40-degree weather, his mother instructed him to bring the girl’s body inside, where she performed CPR and called 911.
The mother of nine said on the call that her daughter Hana ‘has killed herself.’
Calling Hana ‘rebellious,’ the mother said that she had seen the 13-year-old throwing herself to the ground and staggering about the yard after taking her clothes off.
A local weather station reported that the temperature that night was 42 degrees.
First responders arrived just after midnight and rushed Hana to Skagit Valley Hospital, where she was pronounced dead an hour later. Her bone-thin body was covered in bruises, including a lump on her shaved head, red bloody markings on her hips, elbows and face.
An autopsy report concluded that the girl died from hypothermia, with malnutrition and chronic gastritis as contributing factors. According to the girl’s medical records, between 2009 and 2011, she had lost nearly 30lbs and was short for her age.
Larry and Carri Williams were arrested September 29, 2011, on charges of homicide by abuse in connection with their daughter’s death, and first-degree assault of a child stemming from mistreatment of Immanuel.
If convicted, each faces a prison term of between 20 and 29 years, according to state sentencing guidelines
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