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Federal death penalty trial set to open in Hawaii

By Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:50 p.m. HST, Mar 07, 2014


A Honolulu courtroom is set to become the scene of a death penalty trial even though Hawaii abolished capital punishment in 1957.

Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday in the trial of a former Hawaii-based Army soldier accused of beating his 5-year-old daughter to death in 2005. But because the crime allegedly took place on military property, Naeem Williams is being tried in federal court -- a system that does have the death penalty.

It's rare for the government to seek the death penalty in a state that doesn't allow it. Only seven of 59 inmates currently on federal death row are from states that didn't have the death penalty at the time the sentence was imposed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

While the Williams case hasn't received much publicity, the death penalty circumstance gives it something in common with a more high profile case for federal prosecutors: the Boston Marathon bombing.

"You have a population in Massachusetts and in the city where they're not used to having the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director. "It just makes it a little harder to get these kinds of death sentences."

But Kenneth Lawson, associate director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, noted that someone who considers the death penalty immoral can be disqualified from serving on the jury.

"How do you get a jury of all of your peers when the only ones who can sit on there are those who believe in capital punishment?" he said.

Attorneys in the Williams case began questioning prospective jurors in January.

Talia Emoni Williams died in July 2005 after she was brought to a hospital unresponsive, vomiting and covered in bruises. A criminal complaint by federal investigators accuses her then-25-year-old father of beating the child to discipline her for urinating on herself. Federal investigators wrote that military law enforcement agents found blood splatters in the walls of the family's home at Wheeler Army Airfield from Talia being whipped with Williams' belt.

Delilah Williams, Talia's stepmother, was also charged with murder but pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors. She's expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison after she testifies against Williams at his trial, said her federal public defender, Alexander Silvert.

The Army agreed the case should be prosecuted in the civilian justice system so that the father and stepmother could appear in the same court.

"I am shocked that this case has not received more attention from the public and more attention from those groups in Hawaii that are anti-death penalty," Silvert said. "No one's in protest. To me, the lack of interest in the community is troubling."

Talia's biological mother, Tarshia Williams, is expected to testify for the prosecution, her attorneys said. She filed a civil lawsuit against the government over Talia's death. It has been put on hold until after the criminal trial. The mother's lawsuit claims the military didn't report to the proper authorities that Talia's father and stepmother "abused and tortured" her throughout the seven months she lived in Hawaii before she died.

Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. attorney general during President George W. Bush's administration, made the decision to seek the death penalty against Naeem Williams.

"Under Bush's administration, the philosophy was the federal death penalty should be spread out among all the states," Dieter said.

Legal observers say it's surprising that the current government continues to seek the death penalty against Williams. "It's disappointing the federal government is choosing to move forward with a death penalty case in a state that so clearly and constantly has rejected that as a form of punishment," said Rick Sing, president of the Hawaii Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The last time the federal death penalty was approved for a Hawaii case was against Richard "China" Chong. But before he went to trial in 2000, he agreed to plead guilty to a 1997 drug-related murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He died of an apparent suicide about three months later.

Hawaii's history with capital punishment goes back long before statehood. There were 49 executions dating in Hawaii dating to 1856, with the last one recorded in 1944, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The final execution of Ardiano Domingo -- a Filipino who was hanged for killing a woman with scissors in a Kauai pineapple field -- helped prompt Hawaii's territorial lawmakers to abolish the death penalty in the state, said Williamson Chang, a University of Hawaii law school professor who teaches a course on the history of law in Hawaii.

Chang said before the law changed, Hawaii disproportionally executed people of color, mostly Filipinos, Japanese and Native Hawaiians.

Because of that history, Chang said he believes Hawaii jurors will struggle with the Williams case.

"We're used to a society which does not put people to death," he said. "It's a slap in the face to the values of Hawaii."






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LarryL808 wrote:
Put me onthe jury. I have no problem with the death pealty if theevidence proves his gilt.
on March 7,2014 | 11:45AM
Upperkula wrote:
I agree with LarryL808. I have no problem putting them down if they can prove guilt.
on March 7,2014 | 04:17PM
Skyler wrote:
Same.
on March 7,2014 | 06:18PM
COlohe1 wrote:
Nah, if found guilty he should be put away in isolation...AFTER he gets infected with the ebola virus!!!
on March 8,2014 | 08:23AM
silvangold wrote:
"No one's in protest. To me, the lack of interest in the community is troubling." I highly doubt it's not because the people are not disgusted with the case......I think most are quiet so that IT DOES go for the death penalty................ I think in this case he should be put to death.
on March 7,2014 | 11:58AM
GeoDiva wrote:
The reason no one is protesting......He beat his 5-year old daughter to death!!
on March 7,2014 | 12:38PM
manaolana wrote:
His 5-year daughter could have been returned to her mother but instead he chose to torture this innocent child. He should be put to death the same way he killed his baby. Federal prison is too good for him.
on March 7,2014 | 12:41PM
ryan02 wrote:
I'm very socially liberal on most issues, but people who beat children to death deserve the death penalty.
on March 7,2014 | 12:43PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Give him the death penalty or life without parole - beating a 5 year old to death is incredibly cruel.
on March 7,2014 | 01:09PM
jyl wrote:
Hawaii should bring back the death penalty.....
on March 7,2014 | 02:14PM
Skyler wrote:
I agree & it would be good to know what it takes to get it back on the books. Anyone know?
on March 7,2014 | 06:19PM
TheFarm wrote:
State sanctioned murder is never the answer, no matter how heinous the crime. It is outrageous that the Federal government would try to force that on Hawaii.
on March 7,2014 | 03:17PM
jyl wrote:
listen he murdered a 5yr. old!!!! What about the victim??? She can't speak for herself, he gets life??? She is dead!!! I don't think it's fair he gets to live..nope, he gets his due....the death penalty!!
on March 7,2014 | 03:37PM
Skyler wrote:
It's not murder to put a criminal to death - it's justice. Beating a 5-year old child to death is murder.
on March 7,2014 | 06:20PM
Kuihao wrote:
In May 1969, Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote a letter on behalf of the Kennedy family to the judge who was about to sentence Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of Robert Kennedy. In his letter, Sen. Kennedy asked the judge show compassion for his brother's killer and spare his life, because of the values that Robert Kennedy stood for. The people of Hawai'i rejected the death penalty decades ago because they embrace those same values. It doesn't take much moral courage to join a mob clamoring for retribution for a heinous crime.
on March 8,2014 | 06:11AM
kekelaward wrote:
Is that the same Ted Kennedy who left a female intern to die in his car after driving it off a bridge?
on March 8,2014 | 09:30AM
lca1214 wrote:
William's wants to beat his innocent baby to death well let him die the coward.
on March 8,2014 | 06:27AM
lca1214 wrote:
Too many people do what they want because they know we don't have the death penalty...so what happens they go to prison, US taxpayers foot the bill. They get out and just repeat the process - if we had the death penalty they would think twice before committing any crimes. Especially over and over again.
on March 8,2014 | 06:36AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Put a gun in his cell with just one bullet and tell him he got 24 hrs to shoot himself. If he doesn't die, do it again the next day. On the third day send him to the firing squad.
on March 8,2014 | 08:03AM
honopic wrote:
So what happens when the guard who comes to check on him is shot and killed with that one bullet? Double-death penalty? Better solution: put him in solitary confinement with a cyanide capsule. Let the last person he kills be him.
on March 8,2014 | 08:54AM
kekelaward wrote:
He is being tried for killing a 5 year old kid. A kid who was his daughter. If he's found guilty, he deserves what she got.
on March 8,2014 | 09:28AM
ready2go wrote:
People that poison our kids with drugs? Why not?
on March 8,2014 | 09:31AM
vbabekane wrote:
this guy is no father, he is a child beater, this poor girl urinated on herself because she is AFRAID of her dad and he beat her, months of torture and beatings brought this on, it was an excuse to continue to beat and torture this girl probably because he is pissed off at the mother for whatever reason or no reason but used his daughter as "a whipping boy", someone to take his anger out on most times for nothing, he doesn't need a reason to beat her, just for the sake of torturing and then beating her. It's amazing that none of the neighbors or did they come forward to complain or call MP's about this child being beaten, screaming for dear life, looking for someone to help her from her dad, how scared she must have felt each time that no one came to her aid, Wasn't she in school or why wasn't she in school, for her to go to school with bruises, cuts, abrasions, wouldn't the teacher catch on that this child should be under child protective services and her dad arrested?This poor girl was crucified, caught in the middle of whatever the dad felt he should heap on her rather it's a bad day at the office, or back and forth fighting with her mom, this poor girl took the beatings for everything and anything. This is amazing that it's lasted nine years before it goes up before the courts. what took so long? I agree, death penalty for someone of his calibre for killing his daughter mercilessly or put him in jail and let them finish him up. Wish I could be on that jury, past up jury selection couple weeks ago.
on March 11,2014 | 09:06PM
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