HONOLULU (AP) - A former soldier convicted of killing his 5-year-old daughter will spend the rest of his life behind bars after a federal jury announced Friday it failed to agree on his sentence in the first death penalty trial in Hawaii since it became a state.
Jurors deliberated for about seven days before deciding they were deadlocked on Naeem Williams’ sentence. That means U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright will give Williams life in prison without the possibility of release.
Jurors were aware that would happen if they couldn’t agree. One of them, Earlanne Leslie of Hilo, said after the hearing that the panel was 8-4 in favor of the death penalty.
“I voted for death - I’m a little disappointed,” another juror, Clarence Kaona, told The Associated Press. “I feel like we let the girl down.”
Seabright set an Oct. 14 hearing to formally sentence Williams.
Court staff, reporters and other observers packed the courtroom for Friday’s hearing. Williams showed no reaction when the jury’s decision was read. He was bracing for the death penalty, his attorney John Philipsborn said.
“Both of us were relieved,” Philipsborn said. “I think he was very grateful for the outcome.”
After the hearing, two prosecutors - Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren Ching, who handled the case, and U.S. Attorney for Hawaii Florence Nakakuni - hugged outside the courtroom. Ching got a kiss from his wife.
“We put forth the best case we had, and we respect the verdict,” said Steve Mellin, trial attorney with the Justice Department’s capital case section.
The jury in April convicted Williams of murder in his daughter Talia’s 2005 beating death.
Hawaii’s territorial government abolished capital punishment in 1957. But Talia was killed on military property so Williams was tried in the federal system, which allows the death penalty.
Talia’s mother, Tarshia Williams, told the AP by phone she was glad her daughter got justice.
“Even though they’re deadlocked, I still feel that I’ve got some kind of closure that the trial is finally over, because I had to wait nine long years, and that was hard,” she said.
She said she believes the government could have done more to help her daughter since military police had shown up at the house for various domestic incidents. Williams has a lawsuit pending against the U.S. government in the case, which was put on hold pending the criminal trial. The government has denied that officials failed to protect Talia from the abuse that caused her death.
Williams and Talia’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, testified that they beat the girl almost daily during the seven months she lived with them in Hawaii.