Local News

DNA match led to arrest in schools official's death

Posted April 19, 2010

— Police used DNA evidence to identify a Raleigh man as a suspect in the slaying of State Board of Education member Kathy Taft, sources told WRAL News.

Jason Keith Williford, 30, of 2812-D Wayland Drive, was arrested Friday at a campground at Lake Jordan and was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape in the death of Taft.

Jason Williford in court Discarded cigarette butt leads to arrest

During a brief court appearance Monday afternoon, Williford asked for a court-appointed attorney, and the North Carolina Capital Defender's Office assigned Diane Savage of Chapel Hill and Ernest Conner of Greenville to the case.

Williford's next court hearing was set for May 10. He is being held without bond in the Wake County jail.

Taft, 62, died March 9 at WakeMed, three days after she was assaulted at the 2710 Cartier Drive home of a friend and suffered a severe head injury.

Her sister, Dina Arnold Holton, of Oriental, called 911 on March 6 to report finding Taft was bloodied and unresponsive. She thought Taft was having complications from neck surgery she had the previous day. After Taft was taken to the hospital, a surgeon realized that she had been assaulted, and a medical exam also turned up evidence of a sexual assault.

Police took bed linens, clothes and other items from the home and obtained some DNA evidence from the scene, according to search warrants. To eliminate people as possible suspects, officers later asked nearby residents for DNA samples.

Sources said Williford, who lives less than a quarter-mile from the Cartier Drive home where Taft was attacked, refused to provide DNA to police, which made investigators suspicious. Officers then followed him for a while and picked up one of his discarded cigarette butts, which was then sent to the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing, sources said.

The DNA gave police probable cause for police to arrest Williford and search his apartment, sources said.

Police Chief Harry Dolan said there are no other persons of interest in the case.

Jason Williford in court Web only: Suspect makes first court appearance

Williford's parents, sister and wife sat quietly behind Taft's children during the court hearing Monday. Pam Williford said neither she nor her husband wanted to comment on their son's case.

"They are devastated, as you might imagine, just absolutely crushed, going through a hard time which will last for the rest of their lives," Rev. Skip Williams, pastor of Benson Memorial United Methodist Church, said of the Williford family.

"Right or wrong, they're going to stand with him. They are just in deep distress both for him and for Kathy's family and what has happened. It's not a happy time for anybody," Williams said.

He said Williford's family also is supporting his wife, Jessica.

"She is noticeably distraught and (is) just waiting to see how this turns out," he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • mountainlover Apr 20, 2010

    I am one on this site that has absolutely no problem with the TRUTH. I also am one who believes that the reason that a perp chose a particular house could have absolutely nothing to do with who was occupying the house on that particular night. It might have had something to do with the fact that he knew a lawyer lived in the house and that the lawyer was gone; therefore, here was a golden opportunity for robbery. On a second note, I don't believe in spinning theories about other people unless you would consider it fair to have the same theories spun about YOU if it were you in the same situation. I would consider that fair only if EVIDENCE and FACTS, as opposed to speculation and things that the police might not have revealed, caused others to believe I might be a co-conspirator in a crime.

  • Pir8Life Apr 20, 2010

    "Please do get back to us on how wacky it seems if something similar ever happens to someone in your family."

    Why are you so hung up on the TRUTH, no matter what it is, being told in this case. All events are important. The biggest piece of the puzzle has been solved, the TRUTH reveals the entire picture! If an event like this ever happened in my family, I want to know EVERY dirty detail! If you like secrets fine, bury your head in the sand. Again, I would want all events and the truth to be revealed! What is your problem with the truth?

  • itsmyownopinion Apr 20, 2010

    "...Until we know why the perp chose this house, you still have to consider a connection. ..." Death-whatever

    Please do get back to us on how wacky it seems if something similar ever happens to someone in your family.

  • Grasshopper007 Apr 20, 2010

    Does anyone know what was taken from JW's home after he was taken into custody?

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 20, 2010

    aamblb and Pir8Life, thanks for posting your opinions. I have some of the same opinions. But ANYTIME I mention a certain family member I get blocked.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 20, 2010

    Pir8Life, I see your point and agree with you 100%. The details surrounding the sister were circumstantial, but seemed condeming. Until we know why the perp chose this house, you still have to consider a connection. I have read nothing so far that explains the strange circumstances surrounding the sister. Not saying she's guilty of ANYTHING. Just saying it sounded fishy then, and nothing has changed that I've read.

  • aamblb Apr 20, 2010

    I Still say that the sister knows something or Ms. Taft knew this person. If she heard something would you not have gone to see what was going on. She was there to help her sister from surgery. I would have gotten up and asked if she was ok, but she did nothing. Facts are Facts

  • clickhere Apr 19, 2010

    Interesting to see the picture differences between Williford and Atwater. Williford looks like he can't believe this is happening. I don't think Atwater has accepted what's going to happen to him, even though he pled guilty, he still looks too sure of himself. Williford looks like a zombie, he's mentally gone.

  • GroupOfPricklyPears Apr 19, 2010

    It is so sad for both the Tafts and the Willifords. Hope this guy is man enough to plead guilty so both families will not have to go through the hell and expense of a trial. I hope his family and attorneys will advise him to do just that. Kinda disgusted with criminals who try to get off especially when the evidence proves them guilty. They are immature, selfish, unfeeling, scum of the earth, cowards, imo.

  • alwayz2morrow Apr 19, 2010

    looks like the caucasian community has problems to address..time for a town hall meeting