Expert: What a jury needs to consider for the death penalty

A jury will decide whether Naeem Williams, a former Hawaii soldier, faces life in prison or the death penalty for beating his five-year-old daughter, Talia, to death at Wheeler Army Airfield. Williams was convicted of murder and four other counts last week.

The prosecution will not bring any witnesses to the stand in the penalty phase of the trial. The defense, on the other hand will present testimony from a dozen witnesses.

“As a defense attorney, what you’re trying to do is make your client more human to the jury,” explained Ken Lawson, a faculty member at University of Hawaii at Manoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law. “You’re trying to get the jury to care about someone who’s done a very horrible crime.”

Talia Williams
Read: Former Schofield soldier found guilty of daughter’s murder

Lawson says the defense witnesses will look at Williams’s background.

“I show what it was like when you were a child,” he said. “I bring in the experts to (say) here’s what’s going on in his mind. It’s not like he just woke up one day and said, ‘I want to become a sadistic father who beats the hell out of his child to the point of death.’”

Lawson says the crime is horrible, but the prosecution must show there was intent to commit murder. He says that may be the most important element the jury will consider.

“The defense is saying, ‘Listen, my intent to kill may not have been there, no matter how much you dislike the crime,’” he said. “‘I never meant to kill my daughter. I used to beat her a lot. I used to beat her all the time, but she never died. I never thought she was going to die this time.’”

Williams’ attorney says it took his client two tries to get into the military, which raises doubts about his mental capabilities.

All it takes is for one juror to rule against the death penalty and Williams will not be sentenced to death.

“If you don’t like death, you can stop it,” Lawson said. “It’s not enough to come out and say, ‘We decided as a group to kill him.’ That’s a lot of weight when you’re a juror.”

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