Kathy Taft

Attorneys seek to delay trial for Taft murder suspect

Posted February 20, 2012
Updated February 21, 2012

Jason Williford makes his first court appearance on April 19, 2010, three days after his arrest in the March 9, 2010, death of North Carolina State Board of Education member Kathy Taft.
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— 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.

Jason Williford Defense seeks delay in Taft trial

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."

17 Comments

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  • PurpleandGold Feb 21, 2012

    I agree that it was a lame excuse for throwing evidence out...but let's face it, he's just doing all he can to delay the process. I cannot believe how slow the law works. He should have been tried within the first year, now we are getting close to 2 years. There are a lot of folk making lots of money on this...lawyers, doctors...etc. Let the trial begin already!!

  • golowral Feb 21, 2012

    akand43. Good comment. There is another supporting case, "People v. Gallego, 190 Cal. App. 4th 388" that applies directly to obtaining DNA from a cigarette butt discarded on a public sidewalk.

  • me2you Feb 21, 2012

    He should be locked up just for throwing down the cigarette in my opinion. Sick of people who smoke thinking the world is their ashtray.

  • michaelclay Feb 21, 2012

    ProudBlackSingleMother, that's why they didn't do a search until they had probble cause. They let him throw a cigarette away and got his DNA from that. After they got a match they had probable cause to perform a search.

  • buford Feb 21, 2012

    Good, they are not dismissing the DNA evidence...put him away for life for this horrific crime...

  • Mom2two Feb 21, 2012

    First of all, I cannot fathom a person acting as an attorney that will put up such a lame excuse to exclude evidence and attempt to let a murdered go free.

    Secondly, when one throws a cigarette down on the ground in a parking lot, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy that would be protected by the 4th amendment.

  • akand43 Feb 21, 2012

    ProudBlackSingleMother, you are correct that refusal to submit to a DNA test is not probable cause for a search. The police did not hold him down and obtain a DNA sample. They waited until he discarded a cigarette. He abandoned any rights to privacy when he threw the cigarette away on a public street. There is a case about recovering items from the garbage. See California v. Greenwood (1988).

  • storchheim Feb 20, 2012

    "where is the justice for the victim here?"

    muggs, it was merely an older woman, not a pregnant wife or a "precious little girl". She doesn't matter.

  • Uhavenoclu Feb 20, 2012

    Excuses excuses excuses.When h is found guilty and either thrown in jail or gets the death penalty set for 120 years from now,his attorneys should be sentenced as well.

  • ProudBlackSingleMother Feb 20, 2012

    Refusal to submit to a DNA test is not probable cause to do a search.

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