The jury in the Naeem Williams capital murder trial at U.S. District Court in Honolulu has ended their first day of deliberations Wednesday in the first death penalty case in state history.
Williams, 34, a former Schofield Barracks soldier, is charged with capital murder for killing his 5-year-old daughter, Talia, on July 16, 2005, through child abuse. He is also charged with capital murder for killing Talia over a seven-month period through assault and torture.
A guilty verdict to either capital offense moves the trial to the penalty phase in which the jurors must decide whether or not Williams deserves the death penalty after listening to more testimony.
The jurors left for the day before 4 p.m. They started deliberations this morning after a nearly six-week trial that included excruciating details of the abuse and injuries suffered by Talia at the hands of her father and stepmother, both of whom admitted to routinely beating the child.
Hawaii has not had the death penalty on its law books since the territorial Legislature abolished it before statehood in 1959. And even though capital punishment remains under federal law, no other federal defendant has stood trial in Hawaii since then for a death penalty offense.
Federal prosecutors say on the day Talia died, Williams hit his daughter in the chest causing her to fall backward and hit her head on the concrete floor of the family’s military quarters at Wheeler Army Airfield. Talia never got up and was pronounced dead at Wahiawa General Hospital less than three hours later. They say the blow to the chest also separated Talia’s left shoulder.
The Honolulu medical examiner who performed the autopsy said Talia died from her head hitting the floor.
The government says Williams and his wife Delilah also killed Talia by subjecting her to months of assault and torture.
Williams testified he hit his daughter with a belt and with his fist almost every day, sometimes knocking her out, shoved his daughter to the floor and into walls, beat her after binding her head-to-toe with duct tape to a bedpost, deprived Talia of food and forced her to perform physically exhausting exercises. He said he saw his wife kick Talia and slam her head into the floor.
Delilah, 30, testified she too hit her stepdaughter with a belt, including in the face, stomped on her, slammed Talia’s head into a wall, pulled out clumps of her hair and also beat Talia after duct-taping her to a bedpost. She pleaded guilty in 2006 to killing Talia through assault and torture in exchange for a 20-year prison term.
In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutor Steven Mellin said each stood by as the other beat the girl. “It was like they were trying to outdo each other,” he said.
Williams testified he did hit his daughter on the day Talia died but his lawyers say Williams did not kill his daughter because the injuries that Delilah inflicted are what lead to Talia’s death.