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Prosecutor: Jurors should continue deliberating death penalty

  • U.S. ARMY

A federal prosecutor in the Naeem Williams death penalty trial says the jury tasked with determining the fate of the former Schofield Barracks soldier should be allowed to continue to deliberate on Williams’s sentence for killing his 5-year-old daughter.

The statement Tuesday by prosecutor Steven Mellin was in response to a request from Williams asking the court to declare a mistrial or decide on its own that he should get a life prison term because the jurors are taking too long.

Defense lawyers filed legal papers Monday asking for a mistrial or directed verdict. They said the six full days that the jurors have so far deliberated to decide whether or not Williams lives or dies is too long given the relative lack of complexity of their task and other recent federal death penalty cases.

The jurors are scheduled to resume deliberating Thursday.

Mellin said the jurors haven’t even indicated that they are deadlocked and based on their communications to the court, appear to be performing their collective task methodically and diligently.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright has scheduled a hearing on Williams’s request for Wednesday. 

The motion filed Monday seeks a mistrial because the federal jury has not been able to reach a decision on Naeem Williams’ sentence after “extraordinarily long deliberations in a comparatively simple capital case.”

The defense attorneys speculate that the jury is fatigued, saying other death penalty cases have been more complex and jurors reached a verdict after several days, or even hours.

“There is no doubt that the effects of exhaustion and coercion are of paramount importance in the present case,” the motion said, adding that jurors sat through 41 days of trial and deliberated both the guilt and penalty phases.

Attorneys fear “exhaustion of the jury” might lead some members “to vote for a verdict which they would otherwise not support.”

Their motion also argues that deliberations have twice been interrupted for two lengthy breaks because of scheduling issues, making it possible for jurors to be exposed to outside influences or information about the case.

Defense lawyers say they have uncovered information that at least one juror violated court orders during deliberations. The motion says a juror posted information online. They are asking to provide details to the judge in private to protect juror privacy. The motion doesn’t detail the claim but says jurors should be questioned about it.

If a mistrial isn’t declared, defense attorneys would like a “directed verdict” of a life sentence or at least to question jurors. They want to ask jurors about possible exposure to the case during breaks, the juror who may have violated orders and whether it’s likely they can reach a unanimous verdict if they resume deliberations.

Jurors have “a very weighty decision to make and are obviously taking their duty seriously,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes a unanimous verdict is impossible to achieve.”

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