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Suspect arrested in death of state schools official

Posted April 16, 2010
Updated April 21, 2010

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— Authorities arrested a Raleigh man Friday evening in connection with the death of State Board of Education member Kathy Taft.

Jason Keith Williford, 30, of 2812-D Wayland Drive, is charged with murder and first-degree forcible rape, according to Raleigh police. He was held for several hours at a Raleigh police substation on Atlantic Avenue before being transported to the Wake County Magistrate's Office for processing at 11 p.m.

"Hallelujah," Kathy Taft's daughter, Paige Fuqua, told WRAL News following the arrest. "I'm so relieved."

Taft, 62, died March 9 at WakeMed, three days after she was assaulted in the home of a friend and suffered a severe head injury. Search warrants released last Friday also state that she was sexually assaulted.

Police have not commented on what led to Williford's arrest, but said the investigation is ongoing. Police plan to hold a press conference Saturday afternoon. 

Williford was being held at the Wake County jail without bond. He was due in court on Monday.

Jason Keith Williford mugshot Authorities make arrest in Taft death

Taft, of Greenville, had undergone neck surgery in Raleigh on March 5 and was recovering at the home of friend John Geil, at 2710 Cartier Drive. Geil was in Florida at the time.

Taft’s sister Dina Arnold Holton, of Oriental, called 911 on the morning of March 6 to report that Taft was unresponsive and that she thought it was a complication from her surgery.

She told the dispatcher that she couldn't get Taft out of bed and that there was "blood everywhere."

"I heard footsteps, and I know somebody was in that house," Holton said Tuesday. "I didn't know that house. I'd never stayed in that house before. Then, I found her, and that's when I called 911."

Neighbors react to arrest in Taft death Neighbors react to arrest in Taft death

Police were called after Taft had been taken to WakeMed, when her surgeon examined her and realized she had been assaulted. A medical exam at the hospital also turned up evidence of a sexual assault.

Police have said that the attack occurred "some hours before" investigators were called, but the time of the crime hasn't been narrowed down from late March 5 to early March 6. The arrest warrant says the attack occurred "on or about" March 6.

Suspect lived nearby

Williford lived less than five minutes away from the Cartier Drive home where Taft was attacked.

"(It) freaks me out that he lived so close," said Amy Macgill, who lives in the Cartier Drive area.

Police were at the Williford's apartment for most of Friday afternoon and evening. Around 10 p.m., authorities towed a car from the scene.

Williford's neighbors said he kept to himself.  “I’ve never met him and talking to the rest of the folks up here, they’ve not met him either,” neighbor Judy Johnson said Friday.

Jason Keith Williford Murder suspect was arrested before

Williford was found guilty of first-degree burglary in 2001 and breaking and entering in 1998 in Wake County, according to court records.

Williford was the founder, bassist and singer for the local band The Authority, according to the band's MySpace page. According to a YouTube video of the band performing that has since been removed from the site, Williford also went by the nickname "Lightning Rod."

Musicians who spoke with WRAL News on Friday evening said, though talented, Williford had drinking problems and would get "out of control and not show up for practice."

Family friends express relief, mixed emotions

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said Friday that she felt the arrest would bring closure to Taft's family.

"I'm hopeful today's arrest will be the beginning of the end in resolving Kathy's murder. I know that her friends and family really want this to be resolved soon. And this is a giant step in that resolution," Atkinson said.

June Atkinson, state superintendent of Public Instruction Atkinson reacts to arrest in Taft death

“It is an incredible conflict of emotions,” Taft's ex-husband, Tom Taft, said. "We're so relieved and on the other hand we are so upset.”

Tom Taft said he spoke with investigators who said they felt comfortable with the evidence they have in the case. He said they did not elaborate.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • C-Plenty Apr 16, 2010

    If the DNA evidence puts him at the scene and there would be no other reason he would be in that house, then he is the guy.

  • shortcake53 Apr 16, 2010

    I sure hope they have the right guy.

  • TomLynda Apr 16, 2010

    Not exactly a neighbor if he lived about a half a mile away.

    Good work by the Raleigh PD. Said there would be a news conference tomorrow afternoon. Let them do their work.

    Then of course all these wanna be detectives on golo wouldn't have anything to rant on about. Some of you guys (and/or gals) need to get a grip and get a life.

  • Shaking My Head In Amusement Apr 16, 2010

    I'm still not understanding this story. If the sister heard footsteps and knew that there was someone in the house, why did she think that her sister was having complications from surgery?

    Maybe she thought the footsteps were her sister walking around to go to the bathroom or pacing in discomfort? If it got quiet she may have assumed her sister fell asleep and when she went in and checked on her found the blood everywhere and thought it was from her walking around earlier & having complications? I probably would have done that. Or went and checked on her since I heard her walking around.

  • thepeopleschamp Apr 16, 2010

    "correct me if im wrong but all the CSI and wannabe detective beat cops were screaming bloody murder(no pun intended)because the sister was never arrested." gandalla

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but you just posted RPD arrested this guy as a scapegoat. Are you the least bit coherent today?

  • ekroenung Apr 16, 2010

    He has an arrest record of B&E. Check it out on here http://webapps6.doc.state.nc.us/opi/viewoffender.do?method=view&offenderID=0599876&searchLastName=Williford&searchFirstName=Jason&searchRace=1&listurl=pagelistoffendersearchresults&listpage=1

  • Xiaoding Apr 16, 2010

    Ha, I called this one! I knew the moment I saw some of the neighbors interviewed, what a bunch of creeps.

  • jdlewis76 Apr 16, 2010

    There are reasons the police don't tell everything they know, conspiracy theorists. While it may have looked like they were dragging their feet and tilting at windmills, they probably had their eyes on this clown for quite a while. They probably didn't mention that fact because, well, who knows, maybe he would have LEFT TOWN like the Nighstalker did in San Francisco when Dianne Feinstein was mayor and called a press conference spelling out all the evidence the cops had before they actually put their hands on him.

  • gandalla Apr 16, 2010

    "he is just the scapegoat the RPD has no idea what happened" gandalla

    Well lets hear what happened then if you know so much. There is definitely someone who doesn't have a clue what happened (hint hint). If you are so sure he is a scapegoat, run to the jail and bond him out and let him stay with you.

    correct me if im wrong but all the CSI and wannabe detective beat cops were screaming bloody murder(no pun intended)because the sister was never arrested.

  • Jeff_W Apr 16, 2010

    Hmmmmm... RPD collected DNA from neighbors during the investigation. This 'neighbor' was arrested for what is described as an apparently random attack. Hmmmm... gee I wonder what evidence they might have to link him to this sexual assualt case/murder case? LOL (note the sarcasm to those claiming he is a scapegoat)