Defense attorneys for a former Hawaii-based soldier facing the death penalty for his daughter’s murder are expected to argue before a judge about concerns over how long jurors are taking to deliberate on the sentence.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright scheduled a hearing Wednesday on a motion by Naeem Williams’ attorneys. The motion filed Monday argues for a mistrial because the jury hasn’t reached a decision after six full days of deliberations.
Jurors who convicted Williams in April must decide whether he’s sentenced to death or to spend the rest of his life in prison for his 5-year-old daughter’s 2005 beating death.
The motion also argues that jurors have possibly been exposed to outside influences and information during breaks in deliberations. Because of court scheduling issues, the jury is expected to resume deliberations on Thursday, nearly a week after they were last together.
If a mistrial is declared in the sentencing phase of a federal death penalty trial because the jury can’t agree on a decision, the judge would impose a life sentence without possibility for release, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
“If a judge found that there were improprieties in the jury deliberations, he could declare a mistrial on the sentencing issue, and perhaps a new jury could be convened for sentencing,” he said.
The defense wants jurors to be questioned about whether they can reach a unanimous decision and about any prohibited exposure to the case.
In the motion, defense attorneys said a juror violated court orders by posting information online. The defense says that juror may have to be replaced with an alternate. “Deliberations would have to begin anew, which would add another element of exhaustion and coercion to an already bad situation,” the motion said.
In a court filing opposing the defense motion, the prosecution said that declaring a mistrial is premature when the jury hasn’t indicated they’re deadlocked and questioning them could coerce a verdict.
“It is ironic that defendant asked these jurors on numerous occasions in defense’s closing argument to carefully consider the evidence defendant produced in reaching a decision and now is arguing that the jurors are taking too long to consider this evidence,” Steven Mellin, a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s capital case section, wrote in the prosecution’s response.