A Washington couple accused of following the philosophy of a controversial book on child-rearing has been convicted of manslaughter for the death of their 13-year-old, adopted Ethiopian daughter, who died of malnutrition and hypothermia in 2011.
Carri Williams, mother of now-deceased Hana Williams, was convicted by a jury Monday of homicide by abuse and manslaughter, while her husband, Larry Williams, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. The jury declared a mistrial for a homicide by abuse charge for Larry.
Both parents were also found guilty of assault stemming from their mistreatment of their 10-year-old adopted son, also from Ethiopia, who investigators argued received similar treatment to Hana Williams.
The couple lives in the Sedro-Woolley area of Washington and are parents to six biological children and two adopted children. They were arrested in September 2011, four months after the death of their adopted daughter, Hana, who passed away from hypothermia at age 13 after she was allegedly locked outside in the cold. Her extremely low body weight could not produce enough heat, and she passed away in temperatures around 40 Degrees Fahrenheit.
During their trial, the prosecution argued that the parents practiced abusive techniques for disciplining their children, including beating, starvation, being forced to use an outdoor toilet, and sleeping outside. Prosecutors alleged that the couple specifically treated the two adopted Ethiopian children abusively; Larry Williams reportedly told investigators that he used a white piece of plastic, over one foot long, that he picked up from a plumbing supply store to discipline his children.
The couple's defense team argued that the Williams' parenting practices did not necessarily amount to a crime. Investigators argued that the couple reportedly adhered to the controversial child-rearing book, To Train Up a Child, written by Tennessee-area Christian pastor Michael Pearl, founder of No Greater Joy Ministries.
The book has created controversy since it was published in 1994, as it uses Scripture to support the disciplining of children. The book discusses mild spanking, using a small switch such as a plastic spoon, to discipline the child at a very young age. Since the publishing of his book, Pearl has been referenced in multiple cases relating to the death of children and the debate regarding the difference between corporal punishment and child abuse.
Although the investigators in the Williams case did not weigh heavily on religion, they did point to the parents' use of To Train Up a Child as evidence of their abusive nature. Pearl , 66, said in a statement shortly following Hana's death that the disciplining practices of her parents are "diametrically opposed" to the child-rearing philosophy he outlines in his well-known book.
"We share in the sadness over the tragic death of Hana Williams," he said in a statement. "What her parents allegedly did is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of No Greater Joy Ministries and what is taught in the book, To Train Up a Child."
Pearl also told The Seattle Times in an interview following Hana's death in 2011 that his philosophy on spanking is nearly counter-productive if the child is over 6-year-old; Hana was a teenager and still allegedly being spanked. Pearl told the newspaper that the Williams' practice of locking Hana in a closet is considered an "an act of extreme child abuse."
Pearl has previously been referenced in court cases relating to children who died after their parents read To Train Up a Child. These include the deaths of Lydia Schatz, a 7-year-old girl of Liberian origins, who was killed by her adoptive American parents in 2010 when they attempted to discipline her, and Sean Padddock, a 4-year-old who suffocated in 2006 when his parents wrapped him too tightly in a blanket to prevent him from getting out of bed.
Carri and Larry Williams could face a maximum penalty of life in prison for their conviction, and the couple will face a sentencing trial in October. Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich told Reuters that the case was a "very sad, sad story" but he believes the court was able to bring the couple to justice.
"It was a very sad, sad story," Weyrich said. "It was something that shouldn't have happened. Fortunately, we were able to prove the charges, so we were able to hold them accountable."