Testimony underway in Hawaii death penalty case
HONOLULU — Jurors are hearing testimony on whether a former Hawaii-based soldier should be sentenced to death for murder, an unusual proposition in a state that doesn’t have the death penalty.
The jury last month convicted Naeem Williams in the 2005 beating death of his 5-year-old daughter, Talia. The same panel will determine whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of release.
The sentencing hearings have been ongoing for about two weeks and could last even longer, depending on the length of testimony by rebuttal witnesses being called by prosecutors. The defense called mental health experts to testify about Williams’ low IQ.
Here are some key facts about the case before it returns to the jury:
WHY IS THIS A DEATH PENALTY CASE?
Hawaii abolished the death penalty in 1957. However, because the crime occurred on military property, Naeem Williams was tried in the federal system, which does have the death penalty.
Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. attorney general during President George W. Bush’s administration, made the decision to seek the death penalty against Williams.
It is rare for the government to seek a death sentence in a state that doesn’t allow it. Only seven of the 59 inmates on federal death row are from states that didn’t have the death penalty when the sentence was imposed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.
WHAT HAPPENED TO TALIA?
Williams and Talia’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, testified that they regularly beat the child with fists and belts during the seven months she lived with them in Hawaii.
Naeem Williams said he beat his daughter because of her bathroom accidents and because he was taking out his marital frustrations on her.
Delilah Williams provided graphic testimony about abuse she inflicted, including pulling out a chunk of the girl’s hair and stomping on her until she heard bone crack.
Prosecutors say Talia died July 16, 2005, from a blow so hard from her father that it left knuckle imprints on her chest.
WHAT ABOUT DELILAH WILLIAMS?
The stepmother also was charged with murder but pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors for a 20-year sentence. Terms of the plea deal included testifying against her husband at his trial.
The judge has ruled that Delilah Williams will be sentenced after the jury in Naeem Williams’ case is dismissed.
She has remained at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center and is asking to serve her sentence at a mainland facility that offers education, work and mental health treatment.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN NAEEM WILLIAMS’ CASE?
The sentencing-eligibility phase began last week. It is set up similarly to the trial’s guilt phase, with opening statements and witness testimony.
Mental health experts have testified for the defense about Naeem Williams’ intelligence, advancing the defense’s position that he should be ineligible for a death sentence because he has a low IQ.
The prosecution is trying to show that there were so-called aggravating factors that warrant a death sentence. One example the prosecution has presented is Talia’s age and vulnerability.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
After testimony concludes, jurors will deliberate on the question of whether Naeem Williams is eligible for a death sentence.
If they don’t agree that he is eligible, the judge will sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If they render a verdict finding him death-penalty eligible, they’ll then deliberate again to determine his sentence — death or life in prison.