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Cause of child's death debated in soldier's murder trial

Apr. 23, 2014 - 08:28AM   |  
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HONOLULU — A defense lawyer for a former soldier accused of punching his 5-year-old daughter to death said Tuesday an autopsy showed evidence of lasting injuries that weakened the girl before she died.

A federal prosecutor countered during closing trial arguments that medical exams proved that 40-pound Talia Williams died of head trauma when her father struck her in the chest, dislocating her shoulder and knocking her to the floor.

The arguments illustrated how defense attorney John Philipsborn and prosecutor Steven Mellin disagree on the child’s cause of death.

The jury will begin deliberation Wednesday morning.

Defendant Naeem Williams and the girl’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, have acknowledged beating, confining and restraining the girl in the seven months before her death in 2005.

“Neither one of them was a caretaker that anyone would entrust a child to,” Philipsborn told the jury. “And we fully understand that.”

Fractures in the girl’s ribs were consistent with a stomping, Philipsborn said. The girl also had a lacerated liver and bleeding in her abdomen.

Delilah Williams, who made a deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony against her husband, previously said on the witness stand that she once stomped the child until she felt bone crack.

“You can say that this child was abused, you can say there’s a severe constellation of injuries here,” Philipsborn said. “But you simply cannot say what precipitated her death on a particular day.”

However, federal prosecutors argued that medical exams showed little evidence that the previous abuse would have led to the girl’s death.

The defense “wants you to find him not guilty because her countless injuries make it more difficult to prove the final death blow,” Mellin told the jury.

If convicted, Naeem Williams could face the death penalty.

Hawaii abolished capital punishment in 1957, but because the death occurred at the family home at Wheeler Army Airfield, Naeem Williams is being tried under federal rules.

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