Attorneys seek to delay trial for Taft murder suspect
Posted February 20, 2012
Updated February 21, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Attorneys for a Raleigh man accused of killing a state Board of Education official nearly two years ago were in court Monday to ask a judge to delay his upcoming capital murder trial and to throw out a key piece of evidence in the case.
Kathy Taft, 62, of Greenville, was recovering from surgery in a friend's home on Cartier Drive in Raleigh on March 6, 2010, when she was raped and beaten repeatedly on the head with a blunt object, according to an autopsy report.
She died three days later.
Jason Keith Williford, who lived less than a mile from where Taft was staying, was arrested April 16, 2010, and charged with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape.
Jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin March 5, but Williford's lawyers want more time to review evidence found on Williford's laptop as well as a state-ordered psychiatric evaluation, which wasn't complete until last week.
Raleigh police found child pornography on the computer, and attorneys say they have had technical issues with getting access to the full contents of the computer.
They say that the evidence is vital to their defense of Williford's mental state and that his psychological history is tied to what's in his computer.
Defense attorneys also say that police violated their client's Fourth Amendment right guarding against unreasonable searches when investigators collected a cigarette butt that Williford tossed on the street and used it to test his DNA.
A Raleigh police investigator testified that Williford refused to provide a DNA sample when police canvassed the neighborhood. That made them suspicious, so officers followed him until they were able to collect the butt.
Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner delayed ruling on either request until the conclusion of the hearing, which could wrap up Tuesday.
Many of Taft's family members, meanwhile, were in court Monday wearing yellow – her favorite color – as a reminder of her bright, sunny and radiant personality.
"The loss is still, very, very large," daughter Paige Fuqua said. "(It's) felt by all of us."
Williford sat with his head down for much of the daylong hearing, seemingly ignoring the sea of yellow.
Taft's daughter, Jessica Gorall, said it has been extremely difficult waiting for justice for their mother and that seeing Williford in court was painful.
"It definitely brings back the rawness," she said. "To see this large creature come out – and just thinking about our little mom and how he hurt her – takes your breath away.”
To this day, family members said, they still don't know why Williford allegedly targeted Taft – investigators have said the two did not know each other.
"We want some answers," Fuqua said. "We want to know what happened that night."