Jury decides former Schofield soldier eligible for death penalty

Courtroom sketch by Wayne Takazono

It’s been nearly seven decades since anyone has been sentenced to death in Hawaii.

A verdict was reached Friday that puts a former Schofield soldier one step closer to dying for his crime.

Naeem Williams was found guilty of murder for beating and torturing his five-year-old daughter Talia Williams. Prosecutors say after torturing the little girl for several months, Williams finally beat her to death in July 2005.

His wife, Delilah, also admitted beating the girl and has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

University of Hawaii law school professor Ken Lawson told KHON2 he was surprised by the verdict. He also went as far as to say that it doesn’t look good for Naeem Williams.

Lawson said the hard part for the prosecution in the sentencing phase of the trial is proving that Williams intended to kill his daughter. It’s usually very difficult to convince a jury of that “because the parent’s defense always is, ‘I was just beating them to discipline them. My intent was not to kill. In fact, I had disciplined them like this several weeks ago,'” Lawson said.

Friday’s verdict means prosecutors have done that.

Now, there will be another, shorter trial with the same jury deciding if Williams should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.

“From my experience in trying cases similar to this, it doesn’t look good for the defense. I would be worried if I was the defense,” Lawson said.

Lawson points out that the jury did not take very long to deliberate. Closing arguments ended Thursday and a decision was reached Friday. He says that also spells trouble for the defense.

But the hardest decision for the jury is up next. A unanimous verdict is required so each of the 12 jurors will have to agree that Williams deserves to die for him to get the death penalty.

In Friday’s verdict, one juror started crying as each was polled to confirm that they agreed with the verdict. Lawson says the emotion and the stakes will be much higher in the next phase.

“When you’re talking about taking a life and saying somebody is eligible to be killed, that’s a tough decision. It’s only natural to be emotional. I don’t know what that means in the long run, but at least it shows the jurors care about what they’re doing,” Lawson said.

The next phase will begin on Wednesday.

If the jury gives Williams the death penalty, he will be executed at a mainland facility.

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