Judge denies deliberations motion in Hawaii death penalty case
HONOLULU — A federal judge on Wednesday denied a mistrial request from defense attorneys who say jurors are taking too long to deliberate on the sentence for a former Hawaii-based soldier possibly facing the death penalty for his daughter’s murder.
Naeem Williams’ attorneys filed a motion for a mistrial because the jury hasn’t reached a decision after six full days. The defense attorneys also wanted the jurors questioned about whether they can reach a unanimous decision if they continue deliberating.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright said during a hearing Wednesday that the defense would call for a mistrial even if the jury reached a verdict after two days, complaining that they went through deliberations too quickly.
The motion argued that other juries in comparatively less complex cases have reached sentencing verdicts in a few days or hours.
“So what?” was Seabright’s response. “I don’t care. Different juries deliberate for different amounts of time.”
“It is ironic that defendant asked these jurors on numerous occasions in defense’s closing argument to carefully consider the evidence defendant produced in reaching a decision and now is arguing that the jurors are taking too long to consider this evidence,” Steven Mellin, a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s capital case section, wrote in the prosecution’s opposition to the motion.
Defense attorneys also used the motion to accuse a juror of violating court orders by posting information online.
A juror’s two Facebook postings didn’t violate any rules, Seabright said. The juror posted comments that he’s been on a jury for a long time but didn’t mention specifics about the case, Seabright said.
“What he posted in no way prejudices either side,” Mellin told the judge.
The defense wanted the juror to be questioned about his posts but Seabright warned doing so could make the juror uncomfortable.
“The juror would know that someone looked him up on his Facebook page, and given the weeks and weeks of trial in this case, I don’t know if the person would come to some conclusion … who looked that up? I think there’s a fair possibility the conclusion would be the defense,” Seabright said.
The judge said he’s willing to expand on his reminders to the jury to avoid out-of-court discussions about the case, but said what the juror did isn’t different from talking to a neighbor about how long he’s been on jury duty.
“In Facebook, it’s like talking to all of your neighbors, I suppose,” Seabright said.
In April, the same jury found Williams guilty of capital murder in his daughter Talia’s 2005 beating death. The jury is now deciding whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.
Hawaii’s territorial government abolished capital punishment in 1957. But Williams was tried in the federal justice system, which allows the death penalty, because his crimes took place in military housing.
Because of court scheduling issues, the jury is expected to resume deliberations Thursday morning, nearly a week after they were last together.