Kathy Taft

DNA evidence allowed in Taft murder suspect's trial

Posted February 21, 2012

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— A Superior Court judge on Tuesday denied a motion to throw out DNA evidence in the case against a Raleigh man accused of killing state school board member Kathy Taft nearly two years ago.

Defense attorneys for Jason Keith Williford, 32, asked Judge Paul Gessner on Monday to suppress the evidence in their client's upcoming murder trial, claiming police improperly seized a cigarette butt that Williford had discarded in an apartment parking lot.

Attorney Michael Driver said police should have obtained a search warrant before picking up the butt.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Trish Jacobs said the apartment parking lot was a public space and that Williford discarded the cigarette butt in an area that does not require a warrant for a search.

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. She died three days later.

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.

If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Jason Wiliford Judge moves back trial for Jason Williford

Defense attorneys also argued that the DNA evidence was contaminated because Raleigh police placed it in the same bag with a purple evidence glove, which is now missing, they claim, at the hands of a State Bureau of Investigation agent that was demoted.

The claim launched the defense into lambasting the state agency, saying that the SBI's crime lab can't be trusted after a recent investigation that revealed the mishandling of other cases.

Gessner was also asked to remove the Wake County District Attorney's Office from the case because of a conflict of interest involving District Attorney Colon Willoughby's wife and Taft.

The defense cited 25-30 emails on Taft's computer with the district attorney's wife, who is also a state school board member. It conceded, however, that none of the messages were of a personal nature.

Gessner denied the motion.

One motion he did grant was a request from the defense to delay the trial – originally scheduled to begin March 5 – until April 9, so that they can have more time to review evidence found on the laptop as well as a state-ordered psychiatric evaluation, which wasn't complete until last week.

Raleigh police found child pornography on Williford's 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.

Williford sat with his head down for most of the two-day hearing and rarely looked up Tuesday.

"I have been kind of shocked with that," Taft's oldest daughter, Jessica Gorall, said.

"I've had my eyes on him throughout most of this process, and I want to have eye contact with him. I want him to know, 'That was my mom that you did that to.'"

60 Comments

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  • chattycat Feb 22, 2012

    Think it is time for his defense attorney to start working on a plea deal. This guy is toast!

  • warbirdlover Feb 21, 2012

    Where is Dolli, Professing his innocence. He was set up by the evidence planting Police, the DA is out to get him at any cost, and he was in Virgina at the time, sleeping at the Hamptom Inn.

  • valleyGirl Feb 21, 2012

    for goodness sake let him go, another rush to judgement - mistaken identity.. Heck he was no where near her room location.

  • SlickSnot Feb 21, 2012

    Our Judicial system is a joke!!!

  • Zorg Feb 21, 2012

    "Theoretically the jury should be unaware of the questions surrounding how the police obtained the cigarette butt."

    Just curious - why?

  • londonengland41 Feb 21, 2012

    It should be allowed. Why did the defense attorney not want to allow it? Hmmm; could it be that his client is guilty? I think that is the case.

  • valleyGirl Feb 21, 2012

    See, momma said smoking was bad for ya.

  • mfarmer1 Feb 21, 2012

    "police improperly seized a cigarette filter that Williford had discarded in an apartment parking lot."

    "Attorney Michael Driver said police should have obtained a search warrant before picking up the filter."

    I am not a Lawyer, but I would have to say this was a very long stretch for the defence attorney to make such a claim. This may be grounds for an Appeal because the defense attorney has some mental defect.

  • OnlyTheBestWillDo Feb 21, 2012

    Good!

  • carolinarox Feb 21, 2012

    Seriously? A search warrant for trashed cigarette in a parking lot? That's laughable. Just Mojo

    In this situation, I agree with you. But, if the cigarette remains were in an ashtray on his porch, then a warrant would be necessary.

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