OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - A U.S. woman was sentenced to 37 years in prison on Tuesday for starving her Ethiopia-born adopted daughter and leaving her to die outside in the cold in Washington state.
Stay-at-home mother Carri Williams, 42, was convicted last month of homicide by abuse in connection with the 2011 death of 13-year-old Hana Williams, who was adopted in 2008.
The girl’s father, Larry Williams, 49, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced on Tuesday to 28 years in prison, a representative in the clerk’s office said. The jury deadlocked on a charge of homicide by abuse against the man, who worked for the Boeing Co.
The family lived in Sedro-Woolley, a town about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Hana Williams died of hypothermia in May 2011 after being found bruised and unconscious in the backyard shortly after midnight in temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), authorities said.
In addition to the charges linked to Hana’s death, the couple were found guilty of assault of a child stemming from maltreatment of their 10-year-old son, who was also adopted from Ethiopia and has been removed from the Williams’ home.
The sentences, handed down by Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan K. Cook before a standing-room-only courtroom, represented the maximum allowable penalty for both defendants, said Skagit County prosecutor Rich Weyrich.
“It’s one of those cases that is very difficult to explain why it happened. I‘m sure we’ll never have an answer,” said Weyrich adding he expects the defendants to appeal their convictions.
The case is one of several in recent years that has drawn attention to the vulnerability of children adopted by U.S. families from other countries.
Max Shatto, a 3-year-old born in Russia who was adopted by a family in Texas, died in January. Texas authorities determined the boy had succumbed to self-inflicted injuries and his parents were not charged in his death.
But Russian officials seized on the case as justification for a 2012 ban on adoptions by Americans.
Larry and Carri Williams were arrested in September 2011, more than four months after Hana’s death. Investigators say the girl had endured beatings, starvation, sleeping outside and using an outdoor toilet and that she had lost a significant amount of weight since her adoption.
The parents kept their family away from non-relatives, home-schooled the children and adhered to rigid principles described in a Christian parenting tome “To Train Up a Child,” investigators said.
Lawyers representing the couple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Between 2008 and 2012, nearly 10,000 children were adopted into the United States from Ethiopia, which represents more than from any country other than China, according to U.S. State Department figures.
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Edith Honan