Kathy Taft

Kathy Taft's head wound was severe, doctors recall

Posted May 17, 2012
Updated May 18, 2012

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— North Carolina state school board member Kathy Taft was struck so hard to the left side of the back of her head that the medical examiner counted 22 pieces of bone as he tried to reconstruct the missing fragment of her skull.

Dr. John Butts Jason Williford trial (Day 2)

Testifying Thursday in the trial of Taft's accused killer, Jason Williford, Dr. John Butts said the wound, about the diameter of an orange, was likely caused by multiple blows to the head with a blunt object.

Taft also had a triangular bruise on her left forehead and a 1-inch cut above her left ear, Butts testified. There were also injuries to her groin area that were consistent with rape.

The 62-year-old mother and grandmother from Greenville was recovering from cosmetic surgery at the Raleigh home of her boyfriend on March 6, 2010, when she was attacked.

Wake County prosecutors say Williford, 32, deliberately broke into the home and beat and raped Taft, leaving behind DNA in the process.

Her sister, Dina Holton, discovered Taft, bloodied and bandaged, unresponsive and foaming at the mouth hours later and called 911, initially thinking she was suffering from complications from the surgery she had a day earlier.

It wasn't until Taft's plastic surgeon, Dr. Ronald Riefkohl, examined her at WakeMed that it was learned she had been attacked.

"As I removed the bandage, I immediately found a huge defect in the left side of her scalp," he testified.

Kathy Taft Testimony difficulty for Kathy Taft's family

Neurosurgeon Dr. Robin Koeleveld said the severe injury extended to the stem of Taft's brain and that a craniotomy was needed to relieve pressure that was causing her brain to swell. There was also a laceration on the brain that couldn't be treated.

Taft made it through the surgery, but the prognosis was not good.

"I did not think she would survive," Koeleveld said.

She was placed in intensive care and died three days later.

Details and images – including Taft's bloody pajamas and blood- and urine-stained sheets she slept on – of the violence and horror surrounding the last moments of Taft's life have been difficult for her 15 family members, including four grown children, who have traveled to Raleigh for the trial.

"We're just ready to get this over with," her oldest son, Thomas Taft, said. "We just keep hearing the same things asked to each of the police officers and witnesses."

It's also been frustrating, he said, because who killed his mother is not in question.

"It doesn't make a difference to me, and I don't think it should make a difference to any other person," Thomas Taft said. "He's a disturbed individual, but that doesn't mean he should not be held accountable for his actions."

Defense attorneys for Williford, who could face the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree murder, don't dispute he attacked Taft but contend that he isn't guilty of first-degree murder.

The unemployed, amateur musician had been drinking, doing drugs and had been out to get an adrenaline high when he broke into the home where Taft was staying, hit her three times with a rock and raped her, his attorney, Ernest Conner Jr., said in his opening statement Wednesday.

The combination of alcohol, drugs and a variety of mental disorders, Conner said, made Williford incapable of forming the necessary mental intent to commit first-degree murder.

"It created the perfect storm of terrible conditions in Jason's mind," he said.

It was more than a month after Taft's death that Raleigh police officers arrested Williford.

Gerry Davis testified that he and several other officers of the Raleigh Police Department's Fugitive Task Force staked out Williford's home, less than two blocks from where Taft was attacked, in an effort to secretly get a DNA sample.

Prosecutor Trish Jacobs said Wednesday that Williford was one of only a few men in the neighborhood who, when asked for a voluntary sample, declined.

On April 15, 2010, Davis testified, they collected a discarded cigarette butt from Williford in the parking lot of his apartment building.

Williford's DNA matched evidence from Taft's bed, Jacobs said.

Police arrested Williford the following day at Jordan Lake, where he had been camping with his wife and a friend.

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  • scarlett2 May 18, 2012

    I do not believe that he was mentally ill and incapable of forming intent to commit murder. He knew what he was doing every step of the way. He is a predator and should get the death penalty. He is incapable of reform.

  • canucmypointofview May 18, 2012

    @tigresspen-IDK the answer and cannot find it in the archives

  • tigresspen May 18, 2012

    I forget, did they discover the rock used in this crime? If so, was blood or hair on it belonging to Taft and/or was any DNA on it that came back to Williford?

  • tigresspen May 18, 2012

    Defense attorney doesn't sound very knowledgeable in DNA testing process.

  • kenshi May 18, 2012

    @ss3510... the death penalty is punishment for a crime first and a deterrent for the person convicted. Whether it is a deterrent for others is certainly questionable as is all forms of punishment but that is a secondary benefit at best. The primary purpose of the death penalty is punishment. IMHO a life sentence in the US penal system is not punishment enough for someone like this. If you bring a weapon (in this case a rock) to a crime there is intent.

  • kenshi May 18, 2012

    I agree with tigresspen, when he took a rock into the house there was intent. Whether he was high or anything else doesn't make that any different. This is a death penalty offense in my opinion.

  • tigresspen May 18, 2012

    Where is defense headed with this question about all the jewlery and meds available in the room where Kathy Taft was attacked. All it tells me is he didn't go there to rob, he went to commit a violent act...

  • tigresspen May 18, 2012

    canucmypointofview: A foundation has to be set.

  • canucmypointofview May 18, 2012

    Why are we and the jury hearing from the person that just took pictures of the scene, and not from someone that actually collected evidence from the scene? Seems like a waste of time and money...

  • tigresspen May 18, 2012

    I hope evidence from witnesses isn't as imagery visual today as yesterday evidence was. To think the defendant is claiming he was mentally ill and not responsible for the heinous act he used against Taft makes me angry. When he picked up that rock and carried it inside the home with him, I think he was intending to use it against anyone who was inside the home.
    The defendant hit Kathy Taft so hard with the rock it caused an break where over 20 pieces of her skull to break off. And a severe/fatal wound to her brain. Then as she lay bleeding profusely- so heavily that it was soaking the plastic surgery bandages and her pajama top, he raped her. That wasn't due to his mental illness! It was his premeditation with no compassion for his victim and selfishness.

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