Infection led to girl's death, doctor testifies at Naeem Williams' trial

By NELSON DARANCIANG | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: April 9, 2014

HONOLULU — A second defense medical expert gave jurors in the capital murder trial of former Schofield Barracks soldier Naeem Williams yet another theory of how Williams' 5-year-old daughter, Talia, died.

Jan E. Leestma, a pathologist and neuropathologist, told the jury Tuesday that the girl died from "infection of the peritoneum, the tissue behind the gut, and bacterial sepsis."

Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight infection trigger inflammation throughout the body.

Leestma testified in U.S. District Court as a witness for Williams.

Williams, 34, is on trial for the July 16, 2005, child abuse beating death of the girl. He is facing the death penalty for killing a child through child abuse or as part of a practice and pattern of assault and torture.

Another defense medical expert, pediatric forensic pathologist Janice Ophoven, testified last week that Talia Williams died from complications of blunt force trauma to the head, chest and abdomen — injuries sustained two to three weeks before she died. Ophoven said the girl could have died from sepsis but that she found no evidence of infection to her peritoneum.

Leestma's and Ophoven's theories, while different, suggest that Talia Williams died from injuries inflicted by her stepmother, Delilah Williams, on June 29, 2005, and not from the injuries Naeem Williams admitted he inflicted on the day his daughter died.

Whether the girl died from a beating on June 29 or from the one inflicted 17 days later pertain only to the charge of murder through child abuse. It does not affect the charge of murder as part of a practice and pattern of assault and torture.

Forensic pathologist and former Hono­lulu Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kan­thi De Alwis testified earlier that Talia Williams died when the back of her head hit a flat object. The impact caused her brain to twist inside her skull, cutting off connections from the area that controls breathing.

Williams testified that he hit his daughter in the back, causing her to fall and hit the back of her head on the floor of their military family quarters at Wheeler Army Airfield.

At the end of Tuesday's session, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright dismissed one of the primary jurors who on several occasions appeared to be sleeping during the trial.

Seabright had previously discussed with the lawyers for both sides that he had seen the juror with his eyes closed, including on the first day of trial. Before releasing the trial's 12 primary jurors for lunch Thursday, he told that juror that he saw him with his eyes closed twice that morning.

The juror told Seabright he wasn't sleeping.

Seabright will replace the juror Wednesday with one of six alternates.

Naeem Williams


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