MOUNT VERNON — Larry Williams testified Tuesday he felt “responsible” and “ashamed” after five weeks of hearing people testify about allegations he and his wife abused their adopted children.
He said he sometimes disagreed with wife Carri Williams’ ideas for discipline and regrets not intervening.
“I’m the dad. My daughter died,” he said. “… Possibly I could have done something to stop it, but I didn’t.”
Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homicide by abuse and first-degree manslaughter in the death of Hana Williams, who collapsed in the family’s backyard in May 2011 and died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition. They also are charged with first-degree assault of the boy they adopted from Ethiopia at the same time as Hana.
Tuesday morning was the first time either defendant took the stand. Larry Williams described his long work hours at Boeing and said he did not know the extent of what was going on while he was gone.
The night Hana died, Larry Williams didn’t know how long she’d been outside, whether she’d eaten or whether she’d been spanked, he said. When his wife called to say Hana had collapsed, he told her to call 911, he said.
“(I wanted) to get home as quick as possible. Screaming, ‘No!’ all the way home. Praying,” he said, sniffing and sighing.
He said he did not remember telling his wife, “Oh, great, that again,” or saying he was not surprised when she told him the girl was stumbling around the backyard falling down.
Larry Williams said he had not noticed Hana’s 30-pound weight loss leading up to her death and was “struck” by how thin she was when he saw her unconscious, naked body that night.
He said he filled out paperwork to change Hana’s birth certificate in 2010 after she told him she was 16 rather than 13. That change was never approved.
Hana’s age is key to the case because the homicide-by-abuse charge applies only if she was younger than 16 when she died. Various experts who saw her body have not been able to definitively place her age.
As lawyers on both sides enumerated various discipline tactics used on Hana — shaving her head, having her shower with a hose outside, making her use a portable toilet instead of the family bathroom, locking her in a closet — Larry Williams often said they were his wife’s ideas, or that he didn’t approve but didn’t put a stop to them.
“She called me into the nursery and she was cleaning out the closet, and she said that she had an idea about how to help Hana,” he said. “My first reaction was, ‘No.’”
But he went along with it because his wife had done a good job raising their other children, he said.
Some punishments, such as spankings, cold showers for pants-wetting, having the adopted children eat outside or serving them cold leftovers or frozen food, Larry Williams said he participated in but did not know how much they happened when he wasn’t around.
The oldest biological Williams son, Joshua, testified Tuesday that he heard his parents argue about their discipline of the adopted children, and that the frequency and severity of that discipline increased. Joshua was granted immunity for his testimony.
At the start of Larry Williams’ testimony, defense attorney Rachel Forde walked her client through his childhood and moving around with his missionary parents. A brief mention of his two years in Jamaica starting at age 6 elicited the second mention of race in more than four weeks of testimony.
“I never had an issue with color, with black people, race,” Larry Williams said of what that time in his life taught him. “I never thought anything of it.”
When he met Carri at church and learned she was training to be a signlanguage interpreter, he thought, “She’s really got a heart for others,” he said Tuesday.
The couple had seven biological children before adopting two more from Ethiopia in 2008. Their plan was to adopt only their son because he is deaf, but Hana caught their eye on a DVD the adoption agency sent them.
As the two settled into the Williams home and behavior problems emerged, the Williamses employed the same discipline tactic they used on their other children: spanking with a piece of plastic plumbing line they called a switch.
Larry Williams said he usually spanked his adopted son on his backside and only once spanked him on his feet, at his wife’s suggestion.
“I couldn’t do it again,” he said.
The adopted boy previously testified about repeated beatings on the bottoms of his feet by his parents and older siblings. A military torture expert who testified later counted that experience toward his conclusion the adopted Williams children were tortured.
Larry Williams testified he stopped spanking his adopted children in early 2011 because he wanted to try a different discipline strategy. He argued with his wife about this, but nothing changed, he said.
“The use of the closet needed to stop. The outside showers needed to stop. The port-a-potty needed to stop. The spanking needed to stop,” he said. “It’s clear it wasn’t working, what we were doing.”