(Reuters) - A former U.S. Army soldier convicted of killing his daughter was spared the death penalty on Friday, sentenced to life in prison by a Honolulu jury in Hawaii’s first such capital case since it became a state in 1959, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper reported.
Because the crime occurred at defendant Naeem Williams’ home on a military base, federal law allowed prosecutors to pursue a capital case even though Hawaii abolished the death penalty before it was granted statehood.
Williams faced the death penalty for each of two counts of first-degree murder — one for killing his daughter Talia Williams on July 16, 2005, through child abuse, and the other for her death after months of assault and torture.
The jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision to sentence Williams to death, the Star-Advertiser reported, meaning he will be given the life term without possibility of parole.
Jurors had to determine whether Williams intended to kill Talia in July, 2005, after he struck her and she fell and hit her head.
Hawaii television station Hawaii News Now reported that Williams’ defense attorney Michael Burt told the jury in closing arguments, “This is an incident that happened in the context of discipline.”
But Department of Justice attorney Steven Mellin called it the culmination of an escalation of intentional violence. “He increased the pain. He increased the suffering. He intended all of it,” he said.
Williams admitted beating five-year-old Talia frequently with a belt and his fists, often after she soiled herself.
Hawaii News Now reported Defense attorney Michael Burt told jurors that Williams suffered diminished mental capacity. “The cold reality is both defense and government experts found important deficits in Mr. Williams,” he said.
Delilah Williams, the girl’s stepmother, testified during the trial to the pattern of abuse she and her husband inflicted on Talia. Delilah Williams is expected be sentenced to 20 years imprisonment as part of a plea agreement with the prosecution.
Prosecutor Steven Mellin told the court that both Naeem and Delilah Williams stood by as the other beat the girl, and that a blow to her left shoulder area caused her to fall backward and hit her head.
The Honolulu medical examiner said the girl died of a head injury inflicted on the day of her death.
Reporting by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio