Honolulu lawyer to help ex-soldier decide appeal


HONOLULU — A Honolulu defense attorney was appointed Tuesday to help a former soldier decide whether to appeal a murder conviction in the beating death of his 5-year-old daughter.

On a provisional basis, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright named attorney Brook Hart to work with former Hawaii-based soldier Naeem Williams on the weighty decision.

If Williams should prevail in a possible appeal and win a new trial, the federal government says it could pursue the death penalty against him again.

Williams avoided the death penalty when jurors who convicted him of murder were later unable to agree on whether he should be executed. As a result, he will be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The case against Williams was the first death penalty case to go to trial in the history of Hawaii’s statehood.

He testified about physical abuse he inflicted on his daughter Talia. On the day the girl died in 2005, he beat her because of toothpaste she spit on a sink and because of her bathroom accidents, he said.

Defense attorneys who represented Williams at trial asked that he receive legal help in deciding whether to appeal the conviction. The attorneys say they can’t advise him because they believe appealing could expose him to another death penalty trial.

Hart said he’s going to look into whether the government could pursue the death penalty again after jurors couldn’t agree on a sentence.

Department of Justice capital case trial attorney Steve Mellin, speaking to the court via phone from Washington, D.C., said the government would have every right to pursue the death penalty for a second time.

The judge asked Hart to provide an update by Sept. 29 and approved retaining an expert to help Williams determine if there had been any issues regarding the composition of the jury at his trial.

Williams’ sentencing, previously scheduled for October, will be rescheduled to an undetermined date.

“I’m just trying to get you the best advice you can get,” Seabright told Williams. “Ultimately you have to make this decision.”

 

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