HONOLULU (AP) — Jurors who decided the fate of a former soldier convicted of killing his 5-year-old daughter said their labored deliberations ended with eight of them wanting him sentenced to death and four of them wanting him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Because they couldn’t agree, Naeem Williams will be sentenced to life in prison without possibility for release for the 2005 beating death of his daughter, Talia.
Weighing the decision meant considering the violent beatings Williams said he inflicted on Talia to discipline her for bathroom accidents, graphic descriptions that one juror said will haunt him forever.
“I have a 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter, and for the rest of my life in her I’m going to see the girl,” juror Clarence Kaona told The Associated Press. “I’ll never get those autopsy pictures out of my mind.”
He voted for the death penalty.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “I feel like we let the girl down.”
It was the same jury that convicted Williams of murder in April that deliberated for about seven days before deciding they couldn’t agree on a sentence. An indication of their turmoil was their announcement that they had reached their verdict Thursday afternoon but wanted to wait until Friday morning to read it because some of them were “emotionally drained.”
The concept of sending someone to his death is unfamiliar in Hawaii, where capital punishment was abolished in 1957, before the islands became a state. But this jury had to make that decision because Williams’ crime occurred in military housing and he was tried in the federal court system, where the death penalty is available.
“It is difficult to obtain a death penalty in a state such as Hawaii where the people have not voted for the death penalty on a state level,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
“This is a difficult crime, a child, but the death penalty is a huge step,” he said. “It’s a punishment that for some states is outside of their standards.”
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright set an Oct. 14 hearing to formally sentence Williams.
Williams was bracing for the death penalty, his attorney John Philipsborn said. “Both of us were relieved,” Philipsborn said. “I think he was very grateful for the outcome.”
After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren Ching, who handled the case, and Florence Nakakuni, the U.S. attorney for Hawaii, hugged outside the courtroom. Ching got a kiss from his wife.
“We put forth the best case we had, and we respect the verdict,” said Steve Mellin, trial attorney with the Justice Department’s capital case section.
Talia’s mother, Tarshia Williams, told the AP by phone she was glad her daughter got justice.
“Even though they’re deadlocked, I still feel that I’ve got some kind of closure that the trial is finally over, because I had to wait nine long years, and that was hard,” she said.
She said she believes the government could have done more to help her daughter, since military police had shown up at the house for various domestic incidents. Williams has a lawsuit pending against the U.S. government that was put on hold pending the criminal trial. The government has denied that officials failed to protect Talia from the abuse that caused her death.
Williams and Talia’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, testified that they beat the girl almost daily during the seven months she lived with them in Hawaii.
During the sentencing phase, Naeem Williams’ family, including his 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, told jurors they love him and that his life has value. Naeem Williams read a statement to jurors apologizing for killing Talia and asking them to let him live.
The deliberation process required the jurors to consider a long list of mitigating factors the defense presented as reasons to spare his life — including physical discipline his stepfather inflicted, his overseas Army service, and his low IQ. According to the special findings form the jury filled out, all 12 jurors believed the stepfather’s discipline, military service and never knowing his biological father were factors to consider. Only one juror wanted to consider his intellectual disability.
The all agreed Delilah Williams influenced the violence her husband inflicted on Talia.
Delilah Williams testified against her husband as part of a deal with prosecutors for a 20-year sentence. She provided disturbing details of abuse that included withholding food for days at a time and beating the child while she was duct-taped to a bed.
Talia died July 16, 2005, after prosecutors say her father dealt a blow so hard it left knuckle imprints on her chest.
Seabright scheduled Delilah Williams’ sentencing for July 8. She didn’t want her husband to get the death penalty, said her federal public defender, Alexander Silvert.
“I spoke to her today, and she was very relieved,” Silvert said.
The Bureau of Prisons will determine where Naeem Williams serves his life sentence, based on factors including his security level and medical needs.
Associated Press writers Cathy Bussewitz and Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report. Jennifer Sinco Kelleher can be reached at http://twitter.com/JenHapa .
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