Jury in Hawaii deadlocks; ex-soldier to get life

HONOLULU (AP) — A former soldier convicted of killing his
5-year-old daughter will spend the rest of his life behind bars after a
federal jury announced Friday it failed to agree on his sentence in the
first death penalty trial in Hawaii since it became a state.
Jurors
deliberated for about seven days before deciding they were deadlocked
on Naeem Williams’ sentence. That means U.S. District Judge J. Michael
Seabright will give Williams life in prison without the possibility of
release.
Jurors were aware that would happen if they couldn’t
agree. One of them, Earlanne Leslie of Hilo, said after the hearing that
the panel was 8-4 in favor of the death penalty.
"I voted for
death — I’m a little disappointed," another juror, Clarence Kaona, told
The Associated Press. "I feel like we let the girl down."
Seabright set an Oct. 14 hearing to formally sentence Williams.
Court
staff, reporters and other observers packed the courtroom for Friday’s
hearing. Williams showed no reaction when the jury’s decision was read.
He 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, two prosecutors — Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren Ching,
who handled the case, and U.S. Attorney for Hawaii Florence Nakakuni —
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.
The jury in April convicted Williams of murder in his daughter Talia’s 2005 beating death.
Hawaii’s
territorial government abolished capital punishment in 1957. But Talia
was killed on military property so Williams was tried in the federal
system, which allows the death penalty.
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 in the case,
which 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.
He said the beatings were discipline for the
child’s bowel- and bladder-control issues. He also blamed them on his
frustrations with his marriage.
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.
Prosecutors say Talia died July 16, 2005, after her father dealt a blow so hard it left knuckle imprints
on her chest.
Kaona said the duct-taped beatings were key to his decision to vote for the death sentence.
"I
have a 4 ½ year old granddaughter, and for the rest of my life in her
I’m going to see the girl," he said.
"I’ll never get those autopsy
pictures out of my mind."
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," he said.
The Bureau of
Prisons will determine where Naeem Williams serves his life sentence,
based on factors including his security level and medical needs.
Hawaii’s last recorded execution was in 1944.
Richard
Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in
Washington, D.C., said he was not surprised by the jury’s decision.
"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,"
Dieter said. "Prosecutors have found this in New York, in Washington,
D.C., and Puerto Rico, and in many other states where they have sought
the death penalty but rarely if ever get it."
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Jennifer
Sinco Kelleher can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JenHapa.
Associated Press writers Cathy Bussewitz and Audrey McAvoy contributed
to this report.