Judge: Each juror in Naeem Williams death penalty case is to consider 'mercy'
By NELSON DARANCIANG | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: June 20, 2014
HONOLULU — The federal jurors in the Naeem Williams death penalty trial sent a note to the judge asking to drop "mercy" as a mitigating factor as they completed their fifth day of deliberation Thursday.
The day ended with still no verdict on whether the former Schofield Barracks soldier should spend the rest of his life behind bars or be put to death for killing his 5-year-old daughter.
The jury in Hawaii's first death penalty case to go to trial found Williams, 34, guilty April 24 of two capital offenses for killing his daughter Talia in 2005 in their military family quarters at Wheeler Army Airfield, and found him eligible for a death sentence.
Jurors began deliberating Williams' fate on June 11 with 35 pages of jury instructions to help weigh seven aggravating factors the prosecution proved to justify death and a list of 149 mitigating factors the defense offered as reasons to spare his life.
In reaching out Thursday, the jury asked the judge whether the proposed mitigating factor regarding mercy could be dropped from consideration because no evidence about it was presented during proceedings. Jurors also said in their note that they thought mercy was something each of them should consider individually in his or her vote and not something all 12 needed to show as a whole.
Proposed mitigating factor No. 149, the last one on the list, reads, "Under all the facts and circumstances, the jury wishes to show mercy."
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright's note in response told jurors they were correct that no evidence pertaining to mercy was presented and that mercy indeed is something each of them is to consider individually as they weigh their decision.
Seabright also told them that answering "yes" to mitigating factor No. 149 does not compel them to do anything. Rather, it is just the first step in the process for each of them to individually weigh the aggravating factors in favor of a death sentence versus the mitigating factors in favor of a life prison term.
The jurors cannot begin the weighing process until they make findings on each of the aggravating and mitigating factors presented to them.
Williams testified he hit his daughter with a belt and his fist almost every day over a period of several months, sometimes knocking her out, and shoved the girl to the floor and into walls. He also said he beat her after binding her head to toe with duct tape to a bedpost, deprived her of food and forced her to perform physically exhausting exercises.
He said he saw his wife kick his daughter and slam her head into the floor.