By Malia Mattoch McManus
HONOLULU (Reuters) - A Honolulu jury found former U.S. Army soldier Naeem Williams guilty on Thursday of killing his 5-year-old daughter Talia in the first death penalty case since Hawaii was granted statehood over a half a century ago, a courtroom witness said.
Hawaii abolished the death penalty before becoming a U.S. state in 1959, but because the crime occurred at Williams' home on a U.S. military base, federal law allowed prosecutors to pursue a capital case, the first since statehood.
The same jury that found Williams, 34, guilty in his daughter's 2005 death will now decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole.
He was convicted of two capital murder charges, killing his daughter through child abuse and causing her death through assault and torture, as well destroying evidence and lying to Army investigators, the witness said.
His defense attorney, John Philipsborn, had argued that the prosecution could not claim both charges against his client, and that it could have been the abuse perpetrated by Williams' wife, Delilah, that caused the child's death.
Delilah Williams, the girl's stepmother, testified 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. She was declared dead within a few hours of the blow.
Honolulu criminal defense attorney William Harrison, who was not involved in the Williams case, objected to the capital murder case being brought by the federal government in a state that has abolished the death penalty.
"My problem with having this kind of case in Hawaii is that it's basically forcing a law on a people who don't want that law," Harrison said. "So the federal government is saying we don't care, we're going to bring this case in Hawaii."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)