A federal court jury in Honolulu rejected the death penalty on Friday for former Schofield Barracks soldier Naeem J. Williams, who instead will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his 5-year-old daughter Talia in 2005.
The case was the first capital murder trial in the state of Hawaii.
The jury told U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright that it was unable to reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty, leaving life in prison without parole as the only sentencing option. He will be formally sentenced at a later date.
As Seabright read the decision, Williams stood with defense attorney John Philipsborn, who patted his client on the back.
Williams, dressed in a light blue shirt, dark pants and wearing thick black glasses, was relieved, Philipsborn said. "I think he was very grateful for the outcome and I’m not sure he expected it," the attorney said.
"We were concerned because of the length of the deliberations," Philipsborn said of the defense team.
Seabright polled the jurors who all confirmed that they were unable to agree unanimously on the death penalty.
Florence Nakakuni, the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, said after hearing, "It’s a split verdict but that means life without release for Mr. Williams and I think that is an appropriate sentence."
The decision was announced at a 9 a.m. hearing even though the jury reached their decision on Thursday afternoon. The jury, which had deliberated on the death penalty for seven days, sent a note to Seabright on Thursday that said the process had been "emotionally draining" and they wanted to delay the reading of the decision until Friday.
This is the same jury that found Williams, 34, guilty on April 24 of two capital offenses. One is for killing Talia in their military family quarters at Wheeler Army Airfield on July 16, 2005, through child abuse. The other is for killing her after torturing her for months.
After the guilty verdict, the jury heard weeks of additional testimony and arguments before finding Williams eligible for the death sentence. To find him eligible, jurors had to conclude that he acted with intent and that there was at least one aggravating factor.
Prosecutors argued that Williams intended to and did inflict serious physical pain and abuse on his daughter and that the crimes were made worse because of the cruel and heinous manner in which they were carried out. They also argued that the killing was made worse because the girl was particularly vulnerable due to her young age.
Talia Williams was 4 years old when she arrived in Hawaii to live with her father and stepmother, Delilah, in December 2004. By the time she died seven months later, she had experienced food deprivation and almost daily beatings, first with a plastic ruler, then a belt at the hands of her father and stepmother. The beatings continued with her father using his fists.
Delilah Williams, who is serving 20 years for her role in the child’s death, testified that she also stomped on Talia and lifted her up by the hair, sometimes pulling out clumps of it.
After finding Naeem Williams eligible for the death penalty on May 23, the federal jury then listened to days of testimony on whether he deserved to be put to death. On June 12, they were given 35 pages of instructions and began deliberations.
Defense lawyers gave the jurors a list of 149 mitigating factors to weigh in favor of a life sentence for Williams. Prosecutors gave jurors seven aggravating factors to consider for the death penalty.
Before jurors voted on life or death, they were required to indicate on a special findings form whether the lawyers had proved each of the aggravating and mitigating factors.
Williams is the first person to stand trial in Hawaii for a death penalty offense since the territorial legislature abolished capital punishment in 1957. He was prosecuted under federal law because the killing occurred on a U.S. military installation.
Star-Advertiser reporters Nelson Daranciang, Susan Essoyan and Dan Nakaso contributed to this report.