Kathy Taft

Jury selection begins in state school board member's slaying

Posted April 9, 2012
Updated April 20, 2012

— After last-minute motions in which defense attorneys tried to get crucial DNA evidence thrown out at trial, jury selection began Monday in the capital murder trial of a Raleigh man accused of raping and beating a North Carolina State Board of Education member two years ago.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jason Keith Williford, 32, who faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape in Kathy Taft's death.

Jury selection is expected to last two to three weeks.

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 attacked. She died three days later.

Williford, a local musician who lived less than a quarter-mile from where Taft was staying, was arrested April 16, 2010. Police linked DNA evidence from a cigarette butt that he discarded in an apartment parking lot to the crime.

The evidence is expected to be key in the trial, and defense attorneys have tried several times unsuccessfully to get it thrown out.

In February, they argued that police should have obtained a search warrant before picking up the evidence. On Monday, the defense told Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner that there wasn't enough of the DNA evidence left over from the state's testing for them to have it independently tested.

Gessner, however, did grant a motion Monday morning for the state to turn over the results of two State Bureau of Investigation analysts who failed in December a new DNA certification exam. He also ordered that the exams of their supervisors also be made available to the defense.

Defense attorneys also are likely to focus their case on Williford's mental state at the time of the crime.

Jason Williford in court Jury being picked for Wake capital murder trial

He has undergone a state-ordered psychiatric evaluation, and, although they haven't elaborated, the defense says child porn found on his laptop is tied to his psychological history.

According to court documents, Williford had a domestic violence protective order taken out against him in 2005 by a former girlfriend who described him as "emotionally unstable" and claimed his "violence is unpredictable."

Williford was also found guilty of felony breaking and entering in 2001 and breaking and entering in 1998. In the latter case, the homeowner says Williford made calls to phone-sex lines and left feces on the floor.

Former neighbors described Williford as someone who kept to himself and some said that, in the weeks prior to Taft's death, he carried on in a "cavalier manner."

Taft's sister found her unresponsive in bed on the morning of March 6, 2010, and called 911, thinking she was having complications from her surgery.

It was a surgeon who realized that Taft had been assaulted. She died from a fractured skull and extensive brain damage.

Taft's relatives said after a February court hearing that they know the trial will be tough.

"I'm just ready to get this part, this whole, horrific part of my life over with," Taft's daughter, Jessica Gorall, said.

Wake County prosecutors have sought the death penalty only a few times in the past five years, since executions were effectively halted in North Carolina.

The last time Wake County jurors imposed the death penalty was in 2007, when Bryon Waring was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2005 death of Lauren Redman, who was stabbed and cut more than 20 times inside her Raleigh apartment.

In 2010, prosecutors unsuccessfully sought the death penalty against Samuel James Cooper, who was convicted a series of murders between 2006 and 2007.

Joshua Stepp also evaded the death penalty in September after he was convicted of sexually assaulting and beating to death his 10-month-old stepdaughter in their Raleigh apartment.

Mental health issues were a large part of the defense in all three of those cases.


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  • TPen Apr 13, 2012

    Wondering how jury selection is progressing.

  • dollibug Apr 10, 2012

    ++++ "Is there evidence for probable cause that an actual crime was committed?" NCCaniac

    And tell me just how a true bill can be handed down without any evidence?

  • NCCaniac Apr 10, 2012

    And to clarify one point about determining if an indictment is a "true bill"...the first question is "Is there evidence for probable cause that an actual crime was committed?" Second question is "Is there probable cause that the person or persons indicted may have committed said crime?" It is when the answer to either of those questions is "no" that the indictment would not be considered a "true bill".

  • NCCaniac Apr 10, 2012

    +++ Just for your information, I actually heard an attorney say that ALL CASES ARE RUBBERSTAMPED in Wake County...one might think that attorneys would know...you think??

    So, dollibug, I guess this shows you have NOT served on the grand jury before and are attempting to state facts based on second hand information. You heard "an attorney" say that. Was this a defense attorney? Do you know that no attorneys are present in the grand jury room while the grand jury discusses each indictment? So this may be this attorney's opinion and/or a generalization of what he/she thinks to be the case, but as I said...based on my first hand experience on the grand jury indictments were not "rubber stamped". They were discussed, debated and voted on by all members of the grand jury. If you do not want to believe that, that is your right...but it does not make you correct.

  • NCCaniac Apr 10, 2012

    ++++I can only say that you have NOT served on *every GRAND JURY in RALEIGH*...so therefore, you do NOT know...you can only verify that the time(s) you have served perhaps it has been the case. And what happens when there is NO EVIDENCE? None. Period.

    dollibug, now you are just trolling. I never said what the percentage of true bills were for every grand jury in Wake County. As for the one I served on, I am not saying "perhaps" that is the case. I KNOW what was the case and I also know what instructions the judge gives the grand jury and what the grand jury is charged with doing. I can't say if everyone who serves on the grand jury takes that seriously, but I know I and the citizen I served with did. You ask what happens if there is no evidence? An indictment is not to prove guilt or innocence but to offer evidence that there is probably cause that a crime was committed. So, I never saw any indictments that had NO EVIDENCE. It is up to a trial to weigh the evidence.

  • jackcdneh1017 Apr 10, 2012

    No, you want an unimpeachable eye witness, a video of the crime and a confession. per Catriona

    I think it was agreed that DNA from the suspect found in the crime scene when there is no other explanation for it to be there is pretty good circumstantial evidence of guilt based on hard evidence. In other words, you are exaggerating Catriona. The question is why foreign DNA found in other crime scenes has not carried similar weight in other high profile cases, yet circumstantial theories without corroborating hard evidence are bought by the public and juries

  • ArmyWife456 Apr 10, 2012

    Catriona, You also realize that at that point the sister did not know she had been assaulted. She thought it was complications from her surgery!

  • TPen Apr 10, 2012

    For those of you who found it suspicious that Michelle Young's sister was calm on the 911 call, does that make Ms. Taft's sister suspicious too?

    Good question, Catriona. How sad so many are so tainted by media or their own prejudices.

  • Catriona Apr 9, 2012

    I thought Ms. Taft's sister was commendably calm on the 911 call. She held it together well, until the paramedics arrived. For those of you who found it suspicious that Michelle Young's sister was calm on the 911 call, does that make Ms. Taft's sister suspicious too?

  • piene2 Apr 9, 2012

    "He's guilty as the days are long.

    Good grief, I missed the entire trial.