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Hawaii soldier to learn fate in death penalty case

Jun. 27, 2014 - 08:24AM   |  
This Nov. 10, 2003, photo released by Tarshia Williams shows Williams' daughter Talia Williams in Orangeburg, S.C. Jurors are considering whether to sentence Naeem Williams, a former Hawaii soldier, to death or life in prison after he was convicted of beating his daughter Talia to death.
This Nov. 10, 2003, photo released by Tarshia Williams shows Williams' daughter Talia Williams in Orangeburg, S.C. Jurors are considering whether to sentence Naeem Williams, a former Hawaii soldier, to death or life in prison after he was convicted of beating his daughter Talia to death. (Tarshia Williams/AP)
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HONOLULU (AP) — A former Hawaii-based soldier will finally learn his fate for killing his 5-year-old daughter: death or spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Jurors convicted Naeem Williams in April of murder in the first death penalty case to go to trial in the history of Hawaii’s statehood. After hearing testimony from his family asking jurors to spare his life and hearing arguments from prosecutors that the 2005 beating death was especially heinous, the same jury began deliberating earlier this month on what his sentence should be.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury sent a note to the judge saying they reached a verdict but asked to delay reading it until Friday morning because some jurors felt emotionally drained.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright brought the jury’s forewoman into the courtroom and explained that he would accept the verdict Thursday, seal it in an envelope and excuse the jury for the day. He said he wouldn’t look at it until the morning, when he’ll make sure the verdict form is filled out properly, and then it will be read.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers objected to delaying the reading. They declined to comment outside of court on how the verdict was being handled.

Williams’ death penalty trial is the first in the history of Hawaii’s statehood.

In April, the same 12 jurors found Williams guilty of capital murder in his daughter Talia’s 2005 beating death. He said he beat the child often to discipline her for bathroom accidents.

Hawaii’s territorial government abolished capital punishment in 1957. But because his crimes took place in military housing, Williams was tried in the federal justice system, which allows the death penalty.

Seabright is expected to impose the sentence that the jury agreed upon. A decision to sentence him to either death or life in prison must be unanimous, but they also have the option of saying they can’t agree, which would mean Williams will be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The jury ended deliberations after about seven full days of considering Williams’ sentence. They typically deliberated from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They’ve had every Monday off and had some breaks spanning several days because of court scheduling issues.

The defense filed a motion earlier this week arguing for a mistrial because of the length of time jurors were taking to reach a decision. Seabright declined that motion.

Williams’ defense team argued factors such as his two other children, his low IQ, and physical abuse he suffered from his stepfather were reasons to spare his life.

The prosecution said the killing was heinous enough to warrant the death penalty because of circumstances including Talia’s age and vulnerability.

Williams and Talia’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, testified during the guilt phase of the trial that they beat the girl almost daily with belts and their hands during the seven months she lived with them in Hawaii.

During proceedings leading up to the sentencing deliberations, Williams’ family, including his 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, testified that they love him and that his life has value. Williams read a statement to jurors apologizing for killing Talia and asking them to let him live.

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