This Nov. 10, 2003, photo released by Tarshia Williams shows Williams' daughter Talia Williams in Orangeburg, S.C. Jurors are considering whether to sentence Naeem Williams, a former Hawaii soldier, to death or life in prison after he was convicted of beating his daughter Talia to death. (Tarshia Williams/AP)
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HONOLULU — Jurors are taking too long to deliberate the fate of a former Hawaii-based soldier facing the death penalty for killing his 5-year-old daughter, defense attorneys said in a motion that calls for a mistrial in the first capital murder trial since Hawaii became a state.
The motion filed Monday seeks a mistrial because the federal jury has not been able to reach a decision on Naeem Williams’ sentence after “extraordinarily long deliberations in a comparatively simple capital case.”
Jurors have deliberated for six full days. The death penalty case comes in a state where capital punishment was abolished in 1957. But because the crimes took place in military housing, Williams was tried in federal court, where execution is allowed.
The jury was scheduled to return to federal court in Honolulu on Thursday to resume deliberating whether to sentence Williams to death or life in prison. In April, the same jury found Williams guilty of murder for the 2005 beating death of his daughter, Talia, after he testified that he beat her regularly to discipline her for bowel- and bladder-control problems.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright scheduled a hearing on the defense motion for Wednesday.
Prosecutors said in a filing late Tuesday that the jury hasn’t indicated that it won’t be able to agree on a sentence and the court shouldn’t interfere with deliberations.
The defense attorneys speculate that the jury is fatigued, saying other death penalty cases have been more complex and jurors reached a verdict after several days, or even hours.
“There is no doubt that the effects of exhaustion and coercion are of paramount importance in the present case,” the motion said, adding that jurors sat through 41 days of trial and deliberated both the guilt and penalty phases.
The defense attorneys fear “exhaustion of the jury” might lead some members “to vote for a verdict which they would otherwise not support.”
Their motion also argues that deliberations have twice been interrupted for two lengthy breaks because of scheduling issues, making it possible for jurors to be exposed to outside influences or information about the case.
Defense lawyers say they have uncovered information that at least one juror violated court orders during deliberations. The motion says a juror posted information online. They are asking to provide details to the judge in private to protect juror privacy. The motion doesn’t detail the claim but says jurors should be questioned about it.
If a mistrial isn’t declared, defense attorneys would like a “directed verdict” of a life sentence or at least to question jurors. They want to ask jurors about possible exposure to the case during breaks, the juror who may have violated orders and whether it’s likely they can reach a unanimous verdict if they resume deliberations.
Jurors have “a very weighty decision to make and are obviously taking their duty seriously,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes a unanimous verdict is impossible to achieve.”