Death-penalty trial sentencing begins


HONOLULU — Jurors who must decide if a former Hawaii soldier will be sentenced to death are expected to hear from witnesses including his family, high school friends and fellow inmates.

The sentencing phase in Naeem Williams’ trial began Wednesday in a process where jurors will decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility for release.

The jurors last month convicted Williams of murder in the 2005 beating death of his 5-year-old daughter, Talia. Last week, they found him eligible for the death penalty.

In the final sentencing phase, they will hear testimony before deliberating on the sentence, which will be imposed by a judge. Because the 2005 crime occurred on military property, the case is in the federal justice system, which allows for a death penalty even in states like Hawaii where there is no capital punishment.

On Wednesday, jurors listened to a third round of opening statements. The prosecution’s statement echoed the two previous ones that detailed months of abuse Williams inflicted on his daughter during the seven months she lived with him while he was stationed in Hawaii. Williams previously testified that he beat Talia to discipline her for bathroom accidents.

Defense attorney Michael Burt asked jurors to consider Williams’ background and character, saying they have the option to determine that death isn’t justified.

“Your job is to decide whether Mr. Williams should live or not,” Burt said.

He told jurors that during the sentencing phase, the defense hopes to call witnesses including relatives, military friends and his two other children. They are expected to testify about his childhood of abuse, his intellectual impairments and his dysfunctional marriage to Delilah Williams, Talia’s stepmother.

Naeem Williams’ aunt, sister and cousin were among those who testified Wednesday that they believe his life should be spared.

Aunt Trenia Muse, said Williams’ stepfather was emotionally and physically abusive. “He just acted like he hated that child,” she said of her brother. She called her nephew lovable and respectful.

One of his sisters, Astin Muse, testified that their father beat Williams often. She described being raised by Army parents in a tense, regimented household that required “a lot of walking on eggshells to make sure you did the right thing all the time, because if we did the wrong thing, discipline would be enacted.”

Her brother received beatings from their father that were “more extreme,” she said.

Through tears, she called Williams her best friend, who continues to be a source of advice and support.

The only witness the prosecution called Wednesday in an attempt to highlight the heinous nature of the crime was Talia’s biological mother, Tarshia Williams. The mother last saw Talia in December 2004 when the girl left South Carolina to live with her father and stepmother in Hawaii.

While crying, she recalled planning Talia’s funeral and the pain of not being able to see her child grow up. She said that when she sees children’s clothes at a store, she thinks to herself: “Lord, I had a daughter one time. I just wish I could have her back.”

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