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Ex-soldier in Hawaii mulls murder-conviction appeal

Jul. 22, 2014 - 07:37AM   |  
This Nov. 10, 2003, photo released by Tarshia Williams shows Williams' daughter Talia Williams in Orangeburg, S.C. Lawyers for Naeem Williams, who avoided a death sentence for his 5-year-old daughter's killing, want the ex-soldier to consult with an appellate attorney before deciding whether to appeal his murder conviction.
This Nov. 10, 2003, photo released by Tarshia Williams shows Williams' daughter Talia Williams in Orangeburg, S.C. Lawyers for Naeem Williams, who avoided a death sentence for his 5-year-old daughter's killing, want the ex-soldier to consult with an appellate attorney before deciding whether to appeal his murder conviction. (Tarshia Williams/AP)
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HONOLULU — Lawyers for a former Hawaii-based soldier who avoided a death sentence for his 5-year-old daughter’s killing want him to consult with an appellate attorney before deciding whether to appeal his murder conviction.

Naeem Williams’ defense team filed an update with the court Friday saying he hasn’t made a final decision about an appeal. It’s a weighty decision that could re-expose him to another death penalty trial.

His attorneys “believe that they cannot ethically pursue an appeal that would entail the risk of exposing Mr. Williams to a death sentence,” and they would like him to consult with an attorney experienced with appellate work before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the defense team of Michael Burt and John Philipsborn said in the filing.

Jurors convicted Williams of murder in his daughter’s 2005 beating death, but they couldn’t agree on whether his sentence should be death or life in prison without possibility for release. Because jurors couldn’t agree, Williams will be sentenced in October to spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Usually, deciding to appeal is an easy choice, but it can be risky in a death penalty case, Richard Dieter, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center said Monday.

If Williams’ appeal is successful and the conviction is overturned, the federal government has the option of starting over and seeking the death penalty again, Dieter said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if jurors aren’t able to agree on a sentence, it’s not the same thing as the jurors deciding to spare his life, he said, adding that it’s a unique area of the law.

“Usually you have nothing to lose. But here, you could have more to lose,” Dieter said. “The lawyers are right to make sure he understands all the possible avenues that this could take.”

Based on the defense’s filing, the judge could assign additional attorneys to help him or could give him more time to submit an appeal notice, Dieter said.

The filing also raises other areas where Williams needs specialized help to decide: Whether he’ll pursue investigating any possible issues about the jury’s ethnic composition and whether he’ll pursue a motion for a new trial based on whether the government provided all necessary discovery materials in the case.

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