MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Skagit County prosecutors want to open the grave of a teenage girl to help prove her adoptive parents killed her, but the parents are doing all they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The parents of Hana Williams are accused of starving the girl and leaving her in the cold to die.
At issue is Hana’s exact age, because it has a major impact on what criminal charges Carrri and Larry Williams could face.
Hana Williams came to the U.S. from Ethiopia with parasites and ringworm, but that’s not what killed the teenager.
Skagit County authorities say Hana was constantly denied food, locked in a dark closet for days, and forced to sleep in a barn. Police say Hana was left out in her backyard barely clothed on a cold, rainy May night just hours before dying in a hospital.
A Child Protective Services investigation found the girl was a victim of physical abuse and torture, and prosecutors charged her parents with homicide by abuse, which carries the same penalties as first degree murder.
But homicide by abuse requires a victim to be younger than 16 years old. Adoption papers say Hana was 13 or 14 on the day she died, but because the girl came from Ethiopia, her birth certificate can’t be trusted.
“A lot of cases of international adoption are unsure of the age of the child, so I don’t think anybody has decided anything about what they think the age is,” said defense attorney Cassie Trueblood.
Prosecutors say the only way to know for sure is to exhume Hana’s body so medical experts can use her teeth and bones to determine her age.
The judge agreed, despite the anguish it might cause Hana’s parents.
“I don’t think any parent wants to see their child, who’s been laying to rest for over a year, be dug up,” Trueblood said.
Despite winning the ruling, prosecutors aren’t taking any chances. On Wednesday, they added manslaughter to the criminal charges against the parents, which will apply regardless of age.
Prosecutors hope to unearth the girl’s body sometime next month. The criminal trial is scheduled for February, and both defendants insist they are innocent