HONOLULU (AP) — The U.S. government will pay an Atlanta woman $2 million for the Hawaii beating death of her 5-year-old daughter at the hands of a former soldier.
The settlement amount was announced Tuesday at a brief hearing in federal court in Honolulu.
Tarshia Williams filed the lawsuit against the government over the 2005 death of her daughter, Talia. The lawsuit, filed in Honolulu in 2008, claimed the military didn't report to the proper authorities that Talia's father and stepmother "abused and tortured" her throughout the seven months she lived in Army housing in Hawaii.
"I will never have complete closure because my daughter is gone," she said by phone after the hearing. "And all the abuse she went through, I will never get over that. My healing will never be complete."
In what was the first death penalty case to go to trial in the history of Hawaii's statehood, Naeem Williams was convicted of murder in his daughter's death and sentenced to life in prison without possibility for parole.
Talia's stepmother, Delilah Williams, testified against her husband as part of a deal with prosecutors for a 20-year sentence. She provided disturbing details of abuse that included withholding food for days at a time, keeping her out of school to hide from others the physical signs of beatings and whipping the child while she was duct-taped to a bed.
Talia died July 16, 2005, after prosecutors say her father dealt a blow so hard it left knuckle imprints on her chest.
The settlement brings some relief because it ends years of litigation and prevents Tarshia Williams from having to return to Hawaii for a nonjury trial that was scheduled for June, she said.
"I just been through it last year," she said of testifying at the murder trial and sitting through graphic accounts of what Talia suffered. "I don't have to go through all the things that happened to her all over again. It will always be in my mind. It will never go away."
At Naeem Williams' trial, she testified that the last time she saw Talia was when the child left South Carolina to live with her father in Hawaii. She said the last time she spoke to Talia was by telephone on July 2, 2005.
The settlement has been approved by the Justice Department and will be paid in about six to eight weeks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Helper said in court. He declined to comment after the hearing.
Tarshia Williams and her Honolulu attorneys want to work on federal legislation that that would require the military to directly report child abuse to state child protective services, said one of her attorneys, Mark Davis.
"We hope that what may come out of this case are some fundamental, systemic changes," Davis said. "There were so many opportunities that were missed to try to remove this child from this toxic environment."
A judge's 2010 ruling noted some of those missed opportunities, including one on June 29, 2005. "The military police responded to the Williams' home, but despite finding Talia, 'naked and mute, in a room standing near feces on the floor' and thinking 'something did not look right,' no reports were ever made to CPS," said the order by U.S. District Judge Alan Kay in allowing the lawsuit to move forward.
"She would be about 15 now," Tarshia Williams said. "She would be in high school."
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