In re Personal Restraint of Williams, 091619 WACA, 77460-3-I

Docket Nº:77460-3-I
Opinion Judge:Andrus, J.
Party Name:In the Matter of the Personal Restraint of LARRY PAUL WILLIAMS, Petitioner.
Case Date:September 16, 2019
Court:Court of Appeals of Washington

In the Matter of the Personal Restraint of LARRY PAUL WILLIAMS, Petitioner.

No. 77460-3-I

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

September 16, 2019


Andrus, J.

Hana Williams, a teenage girl from Ethiopia, died in her adoptive family's backyard, the victim of physical abuse, inflicted starvation, and hypothermia. A jury convicted Hana's father, Larry Williams, 1 of first degree manslaughter in connection to her death and first degree assault of a child of his adopted son, I.W.2 We affirmed Larry's convictions and sentence in State v. Larry Paul Williams. No. 71112-1-1 (Wash.Ct.App. Dec. 21, 2015) (unpublished), 3review denied. 185 Wn.2d 1034, 377 P.3d 741 (2016) (hereinafter L Williams).

In this personal restraint petition, Larry challenges both the legal and evidentiary basis for his convictions as well as the adequacy of his trial and appellate counsel's representation. After a thorough consideration of the trial record, the parties' briefing, and oral argument, we deny his personal restraint petition.


In the early hours of May 12, 2011, Larry received a phone call from his wife, Carri, as he drove home from his job at Boeing. Card told him that she had found their daughter, Hana, lying face down in the backyard, naked and unconscious. Larry instructed Carri to call 9-1-1, raced home, and helped perform CPR until the medics arrived and transported Hana to Skagit Valley Hospital. Hana was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m. on May 12, 2011.

A subsequent investigation revealed that Larry and Carri routinely physically and psychologically punished Hana, then a young teen, and I.W., a 9-year-old hearing-impaired boy, both of whom they had adopted from Ethiopia in 2008.

Dr. Daniel Selove, the forensic pathologist who performed Hana's autopsy, noticed that Hana had visible injuries on her pelvis, elbows, knees, and calves; bruises on her knees, eyebrow, and upper pelvis; and multiple impact marks on her thighs and calves. He determined that when she died, Hana suffered from severe malnutrition, with an abnormally thin body and protruding ribs and shoulder blades. Dr. Selove identified Hana's cause of death as hypothermia, with malnutrition and a bacterial infection in her stomach, h. pylori, 4 as contributing factors. Dr. Rebecca Wiester, a Board-certified physician in child abuse pediatrics with malnutrition and hypothermia expertise, confirmed that Hana died from hypothermia brought on by inflicted starvation.

When Child Protective Services (CPS) interviewed I.W. and the Williamses' seven biological children on May 24, 2011, the children revealed that Larry and Carri had regularly beaten I.W. and Hana, causing scars; had denied them food; had forced them to eat sandwiches soaked in water or eat frozen, uncooked vegetables while sitting outside on the back porch away from the family; and had forced Hana and I.W. to sleep in a locked closet or shower room. CPS removed all of the children from the home in July 2011.

On September 29, 2011, the State charged Larry and Carri with homicide by abuse under RCW 9A.32.055, and the alternative crime of first degree manslaughter under RCW 9A.32.060, for the death of Hana, and first degree assault of a child under RCW 9A.36.120 for their mistreatment of I.W. On September 9, 2013, following a seven week trial, the jury found Larry guilty of manslaughter and assault.5 The jury also found several aggravating factors, including that Larry's conduct manifested deliberate cruelty, that Larry knew or should have known Hana was particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance, that the crime was an "aggravated domestic violence offense," that Larry used his position of trust to facilitate the commission of the crime, and that Larry's crime involved a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than Hana.

On October 29, 2013, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences of 210 months for the first degree manslaughter conviction and 123 months for the first degree child assault conviction. We affirmed Larry's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. L. Williams, No. 71112-1-1. slip op. at 2.

In this personal restraint petition, Larry challenges: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence of manslaughter; (2) the admissibility of evidence related to "torture;" (3) the admissibility of expert testimony that I.W. suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); (4) the admissibility of expert testimony that Hana and I.W. had been "tortured" by their parents; (5) the trial court's purported decision to permit the State's experts to define "torture;" (6) the admissibility of testimony relating to a book on child discipline found in the Williams home; and (7) the assistance of counsel he received at trial and (8) on direct appeal.


Standard of Review

An appellate court may grant relief to a petitioner who is under restraint and who can demonstrate his restraint is unlawful. RAP 16.4; In re Pers. Restraint of Cook, 114 Wn.2d 802, 805, 792 P.2d 506 (1990). Restraint is unlawful when a conviction is obtained in violation of the United States Constitution or the laws of the state of Washington. RAP 16.4(c)(2).

Relief by way of a collateral challenge to a conviction is extraordinary and a petitioner must meet a high standard before this court will disturb an otherwise settled judgment. In re Pers. Restraint of Coats. 173 Wn.2d 123, 132, 267 P.3d 324 (2011). A petitioner has the burden of demonstrating error and, if the error is constitutional, actual and substantial prejudice. In re Pers. Restraint of Sandoval. 189 Wn.2d 811, 821, 408 P.3d 675 (2018). If the error is not constitutional, the petitioner must show that the error represents a "fundamental defect . . . that inherently resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice." ]d. (quoting In re Pers. Restraint of Finstad. 177 Wn.2d 501, 506, 301 P.3d 450 (2013)). Furthermore, a petitioner may not renew an issue that was raised and rejected on direct appeal unless the interests of justice require the issue to be reexamined. In re Pers. Restraint of Pirtle. 136 Wn.2d 467, 473, 965 P.2d 593 (1998).

Claim 1: Sufficiency of the Evidence of Manslaughter

Larry contends that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for first degree manslaughter. Larry acknowledges that he raised a sufficiency challenge on direct appeal. He argues, however, that the issues he raises here are different. First, he argues that Washington's accomplice liability statute does not apply to unintentional crimes like manslaughter. Second, he contends that the State failed to present evidence that he actually knew that Carri was acting recklessly or that he intended to promote or facilitate such recklessness. Finally, Larry maintains that there was no evidence that Carri knew of, or disregarded, a substantial risk of death by hypothermia.

(a) Accomplice Liability for Manslaughter

Larry first argues he cannot be an accomplice to the unintentional crime of manslaughter. The accomplice statute provides: A person is an accomplice of another person in the commission of a crime if: (a) With knowledge that it will promote or facilitate the commission of the crime, he or she: (i) Solicits, commands, encourages, or requests such other person to commit it; or (ii) Aids or agrees to aid such other person in planning or committing it. . .

RCW 9A.08.020(3)(a). A person is guilty of first degree manslaughter when "He or she recklessly causes the death of another person." RCW 9A.32.060 (emphasis added). "A person is reckless or acts recklessly when he or she knows of and disregards a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her disregard of such substantial risk is a gross deviation from conduct that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation." RCW 9A.08.010(1){c). For manslaughter, the "wrongful act" is homicide. State v. Gamble. 154 Wn.2d 457, 467, 114 P.3d 646 (2005).

Our Supreme Court recently considered a similar argument in In re Personal Restraint of Sandoval. In that case, the defendant was convicted of, among other crimes, first degree murder by extreme indifference6 as an accomplice. 189 Wn.2d at 815. The mens rea for murder by extreme indifference is "to know of and disregard the fact that his conduct presents a grave risk of death to others." State v. Barstad, 93 Wn.App. 553, 568, 970 P.2d 324 (1999); 11 Washington Practice: Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal 26.06, at 395 (4th ed. 2016) (WPIC). It is essentially an "aggravated form of recklessness." State v. Yarbrough, 151 Wn.App. 66, 82, 210 P.3d 1029 (2009).

Sandoval argued that accomplice liability for murder by extreme indifference is not a cognizable offense. Sandoval. 189 Wn.2d at 825. The Court rejected this argument, citing with approval to 2 Wayne R. LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law §13.2(e) at 353 (2d ed. 2003) for the proposition that "giving assistance or encouragement to one it is known will thereby engage in conduct dangerous to life should suffice for accomplice liability as to crimes defined in terms of recklessness or negligence." Id. at 826. It held that Sandoval could be held liable as an accomplice "even though the crime is not a specific intent crime." Id.

Sandoval is dispositive of Larry's legal argument. As long as the State presented evidence sufficient to establish that Larry knew he was facilitating Cam's conduct and that conduct placed Hana's life at risk, accomplice liability is properly available.

(b) Sufficiency of Evidence of Larry's Knowledge He was Facilitating a Homicide

Next, Larry argues there was insufficient evidence to prove he had actual knowledge that he was promoting or facilitating the crime of manslaughter. But this argument was raised on direct appeal...

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