A Skagit County jury thankfully pushed past the minutae of child-rearing techniques and freedom of religion and found Sedro-Wooley-area couple Larry and Carri Williams guilty of their adopted Ethiopian daughter’s death.
No one knows if the couple’s abusive treatment of two children they adopted from Ethiopia was influenced by a child-rearing book they had in their home, To Train up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl. Cheered for its Bible-based parenting techniques and reviled for recommending harsh physical discipline for kids, the book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Since the evangelical guidebook’s original publication in 1994, child-abuse cases have cited it as possibly spurring parents’ behavior, but as a Slate article notes, formal action has never been taken against the authors.
I do not agree with the book’s parenting techniques. But it should also be made clear that the book does not advocate the kind of physical punishment endured by Hana. From a Seattle Times news story:
“Witnesses throughout the trial described the adopted children being starved, beaten and tortured. Hana spent her final months sleeping in a locked closet, showering outside with a hose, being forced to use a portable toilet behind a barn, being hit as many as 40 times a day and at times being barred from speaking to anyone.”
This New York Times story features scores of families who use the book’s techniques without crossing the legal line into abuse. The authors are clear that their book should not be used by out-of-control or overburdened parents. Ultimate responsibility for Hana’s death resides solely on her adoptive parents. The jury agreed.
Carri Williams was convicted of homicide by abuse in Hana Williams’ death. The jury could not agree on whether her husband was equally culpable and the judge declared a mistrial for that charge. Both were convicted of first-degree manslaughter in Hana’s death and first-degree assault of a child for abusing a younger boy, Immanuel, who they adopted from Ethiopia at the same time as Hana. The local Ethiopian community had taken a special interest in the case.
Debate over the book’s connection to child abuse will continue. Justice was served for Hana Williams’ death.