HONOLULU (AP) — Calling it a sentence “cast in stone,” a federal judge on Friday made it official that a former Hawaii-based soldier who avoided execution in his 5-year-old daughter’s beating death must spend the rest of his life in prison.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright likened Naeem Williams’ treatment of the girl to a “house of horrors” and said testimony from the trial still haunts those who heard it.
Williams’ sentencing capped what was the first death penalty case to go to trial in Hawaii since it became a state. A jury deadlocked on his punishment, requiring Seabright to give him a life term.
Hawaii’s territorial government abolished capital punishment in 1957. But the U.S. Department of Justice was able to seek the death penalty because the 2005 crime took place on military property, and the cased was tried in federal court, where the death penalty is possible even in states that don’t allow it.
During a long and emotional trial last year, jurors heard graphic testimony — including from Williams — about how he and the girl’s stepmother, Delilah Williams, beat the girl almost daily during the seven months she lived with them in Hawaii.
A federal prosecutor told jurors that the fatal blow the former soldier dealt daughter Talia was so hard it left knuckle imprints on the child’s chest.
Naeem Williams testified he beat the girl often, partly because of her bathroom accidents.
Delilah Williams recounted stomping on Talia and other abuses, including withholding food for days. The stepmother was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year as part of a plea agreement.
Jurors who convicted Naeem Williams of murder were asked to decide his sentence — execution or life in prison without the possibility for release. They deliberated for about seven days before determining they were deadlocked.
Five of the jurors were at the sentencing. Two of them said afterward that they felt compelled to attend as closure after months of disturbing testimony that still haunts them.
“Anyone who sat through this trial will have lasting memories,” Seabright said. “Memories that will be difficult to lose.”
He recounted hearing how Talia was duct-taped to a bed and then beaten.
“I remember listening to that testimony and thinking this courthouse has never heard testimony like that before,” Seabright said.
Jurors also heard about how Talia slept on the floor of a stripped-bare bedroom, received belt whippings and was left alone during the day in a home Seabright described as a “house of horrors.”
“She was treated worse than any animal should ever be treated,” the judge said.
Even though the sentence was a foregone conclusion, the hearing was more about Talia, he said: “This is really Talia’s day, in many ways, for her voice to be heard and for her to receive justice … almost 10 years after she was killed.”
Naeem Williams declined to speak in court before the sentence was imposed.
During the sentencing phase of the case last year, Naeem Williams implored jurors to let him live, saying he wanted to be a better father to his two other children. The children also asked jurors to spare his life.
One of his attorneys, John Philipsborn, said Naeem Williams doesn’t intend to appeal. Doing so could expose him to another death penalty trial.
Naeem Williams is asking to serve his sentence in a facility equipped to handle his diabetes.