Former Schofield Barracks soldier Naeem Williams was found guilty on Thursday of capital murder for the death of his 5-year-old daughter in the first death penalty case in state history.
The guilty verdict, reached by a federal jury in Honolulu, moves the trial to the penalty phase starting Tuesday in which the jurors will hear more testimony and then must decide whether Williams deserves the death penalty.
Williams, 34, was charged with capital murder for killing his daughter, Talia, on July 16, 2005, through child abuse. He was also charged with capital murder for killing Talia over a seven-month period through assault and torture.
The jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of both capital murder counts and three other related charges — conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements — in the verdict that was read late Thursday morning.
Talia’s mother, Tarshia Williams, nodded gently as the court clerk read the guilty verdict on each count, then looked to the ceiling and bowed her head.
"I’m happy that justice finally was served for my daughter," she said outside the courtroom. "It’s been nine long years, and she can rest now knowing that her killer is guilty."
"I waited so many days, so many nights, so many years and finally got justice for her. My daughter can rest in peace."
Tarshia Williams, who was never married to the defendant but shares his last name, attended the trial every day, sitting through agonizing testimony. She said she did so because she wanted to know what her daughter went through.
"She had to go through all that pain all by herself," said Tarshia Williams, who lives in Atlanta. "So that’s why I stayed there in the courtroom. It was hard, but I did it for her."
Asked her opinion about the penalty phrase , she said, "Whatever they decide, they decide."
Hawaii has not had the death penalty on its law books since the territorial Legislature abolished it in 1957 before statehood. However capital punishment remains under federal law and since the abuse took place at a Schofield Barracks home, prosecutors decided to pursue two death penalty murder counts.
The jurors began deliberations Wednesday after a six-week trial before federal Judge J. Michael Seabright 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.
Federal prosecutors said on the day Talia died, Williams struck 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 injuries sustained after her head hit the floor.
The government said 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, and shoved his daughter to the floor and into walls. He also said he 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 Williams, 30, testified she also hit her stepdaughter with a belt, stomped on her, slammed her 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 Williams and his wife 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 his wife inflicted are what lead to Talia’s death.