HONOLULU - An "evil" stepmother derived pleasure from severely beating her husband's 5-year-old daughter while they lived in Army housing in Hawaii, a federal judge said Tuesday as he upheld a plea deal the woman made with prosecutors to receive a 20-year sentence for the murder of the child.
Though the agreement with Delilah Williams seemed distasteful and "difficult to swallow," U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright said it was necessary in prosecuting a murder case against her husband, Naeem Williams, who prosecutors said delivered the punch that killed his daughter Talia on July 16, 2005.
"There are only three people in the entire world that knew the truth about what was happening in the Williams household," Seabright said. "Obviously, Talia is not here to tell us her story about what happened. . . . So the government made a deal with the only person who could provide the whole story, and that was Delilah Williams."
The sentence imposed by Seabright included nine years that she had already served.
The judge had harsh words for 30-year-old Delilah Williams - and for prosecutors who insisted on pursuing the death penalty against her husband, a former soldier.
"From your testimony on that stand - it went on for several days - it became clear to me you wanted Talia to suffer, that you were OK with her dying," Seabright told her. "To you, Talia was just a nuisance - a problem in the household that needed to go away."
The judge said he had wondered if a prosecutor was exaggerating in his opening statement when he called her a "wicked stepmother." But her testimony, which included graphic descriptions of stomping on the girl, slamming her head against walls, withholding food for days and beating her while she was duct-taped to a bedpost, proved the prosecutor's characterization was accurate, Seabright said.
Her calm recounting of the beatings, "barely shedding a tear throughout days of testimony," left the impression with the judge that she enjoyed inflicting the abuse.
"It gave you some twisted relief," Seabright said. "Some twisted satisfaction - and it cost this girl her life."
Seabright said the most shocking thing he heard from Williams was that she left Talia home alone to get a manicure after stomping on the child so hard that she heard bone crack and the girl defecated.
"As if you deserved a special treat after inflicting the pain you did on that little girl," he said.
Talia simply wanted acceptance, love and a family, Seabright said, but instead got hateful abuse with a plastic ruler, belts, fists and duct tape.
Jurors who convicted Naeem Williams of murder weren't able to agree on his sentence, allowing him to avoid execution. Three of them attended Tuesday's sentencing hearing.
"I loved the judge's comments," juror Kelle Mata said. "I totally agree that the sentence that she's getting does not fit the crime she's done."
Mata said he and other jurors also plan to attend the sentencing of Naeem Williams in October.
Seabright noted that prosecutors said after jurors couldn't agree on a sentence that life without possibility for release was the appropriate penalty for him.
"The government seems to be running away now from the decision to seek the death penalty," said the judge.
Mata questioned why prosecutors put the jurors through months of a stressful death-penalty trial.
"If they're so satisfied with just getting life, then why even put people through the process?" he asked.
Assistant U.S. attorney Darren Ching declined to comment after the sentencing of Delilah Williams.
"While the United States' decision to seek the death penalty was warranted, the United States respects the jury's determination that life in prison was an appropriate outcome," Elliot Enoki, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Hawaii, later said, reading from a statement. "At no time has the government's position been that the prosecution of either Delilah or Naeem Williams was a waste of time."
Federal public defender Alexander Silvert, who represented Delilah Williams, called Seabright's comments appropriate.
When the deal was negotiated nine years ago, prosecutors didn't know the extent of the abuse, Silvert told the judge in agreeing with his comments about the plea deal.
Williams shook her head no when given a chance to speak in court. She did not seem to show any reaction as she stood, straight black hair reaching below her waist, to listen to the judge's rebuking.
The judge also sentenced her to five years of supervised release and didn't impose any fines beyond a $100 fee, noting that she has no means to pay.