Jurors will begin deliberating whether a former Schofield soldier should be put to death for killing his 5-year-old daughter Thursday morning in the state's first death-penalty case.
Jurors unanimously convicted 34-year-old Naeem Williams of murdering his 5-year-old daughter Talia after beating her for months with a belt, a ruler and his fists.
Now, they must unanimously decide his fate.
"If one person says, 'No, I'm not for the death penalty', he has to do life in prison," explained Ken Lawson, a law professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa.
Jurors were given 35 pages of instructions outlining the aggravating factors that were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Among them are that Talia's death was especially heinous because it involved torture and physical abuse, and that Talia was particularly vulnerable because of her age and special needs.
"It's not the number of factors, it's the validity of the factors. One factor can outweigh everything. If they think that this guy was just a monster and there was absolutely no excuse in any way, shape, or form for his behavior and he should get the death penalty, he gets the death penalty regardless if they have 2,000 mitigating factors. One aggravating factor can wipe out everything. Just as one mitigating factor, such as mercy," explained criminal defense attorney Victor Bakke.
Jurors also received 149 mitigating factors to consider in Williams' plea to spare his life. Among them are claims he is intellectually impaired and believed Talia's developmental delays could be corrected through physical punishment.
"You can get through 149 mitigating circumstances and all the other aggravating factors that they have to weigh, but the bottom line comes down to justice -- do they believe the man should die in their heart of hearts? That's what it's going to come down to," Lawson said.
Lawson, who is not a proponent of capital punishment, questions the government's decision to try a death penalty case in a state that doesn't have the death penalty.
"It shows a lack of respect for the wishes of this state," Lawson said.
Bakke also wonders whether this is the most appropriate case to be considered for the death penalty.
"This guy will be punished, just like every other person who is convicted of a crime will be punished, but you reserve the death penalty for only the most extreme circumstances and unfortunately, this case doesn't really rise to an extreme circumstance. Children are beaten to death by their parents on a daily, monthly basis in this country and in state courts they do not get the death penalty," Bakke explained.
"Prosecutors are going to have a serious problem convincing the jury that there's something exceptional about this case that warrants the death penalty. There's just nothing unusual about it and that's a sad reflection on our society that it's just another child abuse case. Maybe the government is trying to make a point that child abuse just cannot be tolerated and when given the government will seek the ultimate sentence, which is the death penalty, but there's nothing obvious on it's face that singles out why after all the years of statehood this case was selected for the death penalty," said Bakke.
Another thing Bakke says doesn't seem right to him is that Talia's stepmother, Delilah Williams, also admitted her role in the torture and injury of the 5-year-old, but reached a plea deal with the government and was only sentenced to a 20 year imprisonment.
"To cut that kind of deal on one end and then go so extreme on the other seems to be inconsistent. How can you ask the death penalty for one, but yet just a term of imprisonment for the other?" Bakke asked.
Bakke and Lawson agree this will be one of the toughest decision jurors likely ever make in their lives.
"You're choosing life or death and it's calculated. It's not like you make a rush decision when somebody busts into your house and you got to make a choice and you take a life. Here you sit back, you look at evidence and you weigh it," Lawson said. "In the 35 pages of jury instruction you won't find one definition of justice because justice is a feeling. You'll find all sorts of legal definitions — what you're supposed to do is weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors and if the aggravating outweighs the mitigating, you're supposed to execute. Yeah, but is that just? So that last one that number 149 that says mercy, that's what the defendant is hanging is hat on. Mercy."
5-year old Talia Williams died on July 16, 2005. During his trial, her father, Naeem Williams, admitted to beating her every day for months after he got custody.
His wife, Delilah Williams, testified they would duct tape her eyes, so she wouldn't see the hits coming, duct tape her mouth, to muffle the screams and cries. Then, they'd whip her with a belt, sometimes for up to an hour.
Officials say if Naeem Williams is sentenced to death, it won't happen here in Hawaiʻi, but rather at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana where the execution would be carried out by lethal injection.