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Ex-inmates testify in Hawaii death penalty case

June 4, 2014 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — Two former inmates who spent time with a man facing a death sentence for killing his 5-year-old daughter said Tuesday he avoided trouble while behind bars in Honolulu.

The inmates testified during the sentencing phase for Naeem Williams, a former Hawaii soldier convicted of beating his daughter Talia to death. Jurors are considering whether to sentence Williams to death or life in prison.

Williams could be the first person on the islands sentenced to death since Hawaii became a state in 1959.

Allen Gomes served time in the same unit as Williams in the Honolulu Federal Detention Center. He told jurors he ate with Williams and watched as Williams avoided conflict, including a confrontation with another inmate who was trying to provoke him to fight.

Gomes said the other inmate touched foreheads with Williams, yelled and swore at him and tried to get him to react. Williams responded by backing away and apologizing to the other inmate “if I offended you in any way,” Gomes said.

“None of us at the table knew what it was about,” said Gomes, who served more than 25 years in prison for various offenses including manslaughter, burglary and car theft. “It was just foolishness.”

Another former inmate, Jomorrious Briscoe, said Williams was a confidant who offered encouragement and advice on family issues.

“He was there like a big brother to me,” said Briscoe, who was in prison for an assault conviction that came while he was on probation for a firearms charge. “He’s quiet, and when he talks, he’s respectful.”

Defense lawyers also questioned a prisons consultant and former warden, Mark Bezy, who said Williams receives a lot of visits from family and spends time seeking religion.

“He’s going out of his way to achieve something for his inner being or inner self,” Bezy said.

Jurors convicted Williams of capital murder after he testified he beat his daughter often to discipline her for bathroom accidents and because of marital frustrations with her stepmother. The same jury later agreed with prosecutors that the death penalty should be considered given the circumstances surrounding the crimes.

Capital punishment was abolished in Hawaii in 1957, but the case is being tried in federal court because the murder happened on military property.