HONOLULU - A former Hawaii-based soldier testifying in his capital murder trial said Wednesday that he beat his 5-year-old daughter often because of her bathroom accidents and because he was taking out his marital frustrations on the child.
Naeem Williams said the day his daughter Talia died in July 2005, he hit her so hard in the back that she hit her head on the floor and appeared to have a seizure. He said he punched her repeatedly after coming home from a night of drinking and being upset that Talia had spit toothpaste all over the sink and had urinated on herself.
Talia didn't get up from the blow, he said.
"I take her to the bathtub, put some cold water on her to see if that would get her to come to," he said. Then he laid her on her bedroom floor to listen if her heart was beating. When he pressed down on her chest, a film of mucous came out of her mouth, he recalled.
"There was a point where I was like, 'I need to call 911,' but that didn't happen." Instead, he and Talia's stepmother, Delilah Williams, fretted over making sure a relative could pick up their infant daughter, Azrah.
"There came a point where while I'm getting up from being beside Talia I look up and see blood on the wall," he said. So while his wife made arrangements for the baby to be picked up, Williams said he cleaned the wall, "so the police won't see it." He said he then took a shower.
Williams could face the death penalty even though Hawaii doesn't have capital punishment because he's being tried in federal court.
Earlier in Williams' testimony, the judge cautioned against his "retrospective" comments when he started to reflect on what would have happened if he didn't get custody of Talia and bring her to live with him in Hawaii. The prosecution objected and U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright quickly sent the jury out of the courtroom.
"It seems to me he was coached to say these things," Seabright said, noting that Williams' testimony mirrors what defense attorney John Philipsborn said in his opening statement.
In his opening statement last month, Philipsborn said Talia came to live with the couple in the midst of their dysfunctional marriage and that they weren't equipped to raise a special-needs child.
Williams spoke haltingly, looked down often and sounded like he was crying during his testimony. It was a marked difference from the testimony of his wife, who spoke clearly in detailing physical abuse they inflicted on Talia, including duct-taping her to a bedpost, removing all furniture from her room and withholding food. Delilah Williams testified for the prosecution as part of a plea deal for a 20-year sentence.
Naeem Williams testified that he didn't intend to cause physical and mental pain.
"What was your intent while you were beating her down?" asked Federal Prosecutor Steven Mellin during cross-examination.
"All I wanted to do was stop Talia from using the bathroom on herself," Williams replied. But he said he was also taking out frustrations he had in his rocky marriage.
Mellin said Williams is trying to blame his wife for beating Talia, who turned 5 on March 20, 2005.
Williams recalled that while at the hospital where Talia was pronounced dead, an Army investigator asked him if he wanted to write her a letter.
After a long pause he said, "What could I have said?"