Kathy Taft

Kathy Taft's accused killer attacked wife days before arrest

Posted May 22, 2012
Updated May 23, 2012

— The wife of Jason Williford testified Tuesday in his capital murder trial that he forced himself on her five days before his arrest in the March 2010 death of Kathy Taft.

Raleigh police detective Zeke Morse Jason Williford trial (Day 5)

Jessica Foote said Williford, 32, had been drinking and was the most intoxicated she had ever seen him during the course of their four-year relationship.

"He grabbed my left arm and put it behind my back and threw me down so that my face and head were on the bed and my feet were on the floor," Foote recalled. "I just kept screaming, 'Get off me.' Eventually, he made one more forceful shove and threw his hands up in the air."

After Williford left the bedroom, Foote continued, she locked the door and pre-dialed 911 on her cellphone, in case she needed to call later.

On cross-examination, she admitted to Williford's attorneys that she neglected to tell police about the attack, because she thought it would make him look bad.

In fact, she told a police detective that Williford "wouldn't hurt a fly," his attorney, Michael Driver, pointed out. She also testified that, when he was sober, Williford was a caring person.

"I believed that withholding certain information would have protected him. I thought he was being framed for something that police couldn't figure out," Foote said. "My brain was working against me."

Police arrested Williford on April 16, 2010, and charged him with first-degree murder, first-degree rape and first-degree burglary in Taft's death.

The longtime school board member was recovering from cosmetic surgery at the Raleigh home of a friend and companion on March 6, 2010, when, prosecutors say, Williford intentionally attacked her in the early-morning hours.

Jason Williford Jason Williford's wife testifies in trial

Although Williford's attorneys admit he attacked Taft, they contend a variety of mental disorders kept him from having the capacity to form the intent to commit the crime, which is needed for a first-degree murder conviction.

The defense objected to Foote's testimony about the attempted rape, but in arguing for it, prosecutors said Williford was able to control himself because he did not carry out the attack on his wife.

Foote, who filed for divorce two weeks ago, told jurors that she knew Williford was seeing a mental health professional and had been prescribed lithium but wasn't aware of the extent of his mental issues.

"Jason never talked to me about anything that bothered him or suggested at all that he was having problems other than alcoholism," she said.

On the morning of Taft's attack, Foote said, Williford had been drinking and partying with a friend at their home and that she had been "furious" that they were keeping her awake.

Williford returned from taking his friend home around 2:30 a.m. that day, she recalled. The two argued some, and Williford left again.

He didn't return for a long time.

"I remember lying in bed and checking the clock. It was about 5, I suppose (when he returned)," Foote said. "He was in his boxer shorts. That was it. He didn't say anything. He crawled in the bed, rolled over and appeared to be asleep."

Taft’s sister heard noises

A couple hours earlier, less than two blocks away from the Willifords' apartment, Taft's sister, Dina Holton, was awakened by noises in the house.

Holton had been staying with Taft while she recovered from her surgery. The two spent the afternoon watching movies and eating ice cream. Holton helped her sister to bed around 9 p.m., then cleaned the kitchen and fell asleep on the couch.

She was subpoenaed to testify at Williford's trial but is in a local hospital, prosecutors said.

Raleigh police homicide detective Sgt. Jason Hodge, however, interviewed Holton several times after Taft's death, including once when she walked through the home and re-enacted the events of that night.

"At one point, she actually got up, leaned up on the couch and said, 'Who is in this house?'" Hodge said. "She kept hearing noises. She didn't know what it was."

Holton also got up and went to the door of the home and noticed it was unlocked. She opened the door, turned on the outside lights and yelled, Hodge said.

"I thought, ‘We're safe. Everything's OK,’" Holton told Hodge in a video of the re-enactment.

She then locked the door and walked to her sister's bedroom, pushing the door open slightly but keeping the lights off.

"I didn't want to wake her," Holton said. "It sounded like she was fine."

According to a clock above the TV in the den, that was around 3 a.m., Holton told Hodge.

More than six hours later, Holton found her sister unresponsive and bloodied in her bed.

At WakeMed, doctors realized she had been beaten in the head with a blunt object. She had also been raped.

Foote recalled seeing police cars in the neighborhood later that day and Williford researching what had happened while at his parents' house that evening.

"Jason went upstairs and went on Internet and was looking at what happened," Foote said. "He said a lady was attacked in our neighborhood, and I should lock the doors when he wasn't home."

Taft died from her injuries, three days later, on March 9, 2010.

DNA led to arrest

Semen found on Taft's bed sheet prompted police to canvass the neighborhood where she had been staying and to collect voluntary DNA samples from male neighbors.

All but Williford consented, lead homicide detective Zeke Morse said.

"The whole interaction (with Williford) was different than what I was experiencing," he said.

Unlike other neighbors, who asked many questions and invited detectives into their home for interviews that lasted no less than an hour, Williford asked no questions, expressed no concern for his or his wife's safety and kept police outside his home and the interviews short, Morse said.

When confronted about not giving his DNA, Williford said his parents told him never to do so, and he cited his Fourth Amendment right to refuse unreasonable searches.

Police eventually got Williford's DNA from a discarded cigarette butt in the apartment complex's parking lot, and they arrested him late in the afternoon on April 16, 2010, at Jordan Lake.

"I found Jason handcuffed and seated in a lawn chair," Morse said of when he arrived at the campground after the arrest.

Foote was standing next to him, unsure of what was going on, she said.

"All I could really do was stare off into the space of the lake and trees and try and grasp that this was reality," she said. "I really don't know what was going on."

"Was that shocking to you?" Wake County Assistant District Attorney David Saacks asked.

"Yeah, very much," she replied.

Morse, meanwhile, told Williford he was under arrest, to which he replied: "Are you serious? How can this be?"

"I told Jason, at that point, I'd answer all his questions once we got back to the police station," Morse said.

Foote fell down and collapsed to the ground crying.

"She was hysterical," Morse said.


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  • Gunny the Racist May 23, 2012

    "Does anyone think there's a problem with having Ms. Taft's smiling face adorning the link that you click to watch the trial of the person accused of her murder?"

    I think that's EXACTLY what needs to be shown. When people commit crimes like this, it's not just a mannequin in the window. It's someone's wife, or sister, or mother, or all the above. I want to see this country move back towards much harsher punishment for these types of crimes. Enough of this silly defense where it's someone, or something else's fault. This doesn't matter to me, this person should be executed within hours of a conviction, and I for one would love to be the executioner.

  • finwearer May 23, 2012

    I've watched a bit of the live video of the trial. The most notable thing I've noticed is that the accused keeps his eyes downcast and doesn't respond, in any way, to all of the activity going on around him. Much less, ABOUT him. To do that requires a TREMENDOUS amount of self-control. He's too consistant with it to be "crazy"....and abviously has an unbelievable amount of self control. Just an observation.

  • canucmypointofview May 23, 2012

    Can anybody clue me in on why they stop and start so much?

  • barbstillkickin May 23, 2012

    I guess he was not thinking when he attacked his wife either. Once a beater always a beater only problem is Kathy fought back and it cost her her life.

  • perfectionlgs May 23, 2012

    This is a sick individual when you leave your home that you share with a wife and go break into another's home then proceed to rape an murder an innocent women....you are more than a sick individual and you need to spend the rest of your like incarcerated and not in a mental institution but a state prison...

  • rickandlinda88 May 23, 2012

    hard to tell who's lying the most.why would his "wife" not tell leo's what happened?was she drinking and drugging along with him??why wait 2 years to file for divorce..married to a rapist/murderer maybe turned her on??..until he got caught..perhaps wife was more involved,helped harbor him??

  • uncw05 May 23, 2012

    PoorOlCountryBoy- not at all. I think she deserves to have the public remember her that way.

  • Country Girlz Have MORE fun May 23, 2012

    Stop wasting my tax money.

  • InTheNo May 23, 2012

    Does anyone think there's a problem with having Ms. Taft's smiling face adorning the link that you click to watch the trial of the person accused of her murder?

  • Kaitlyn May 23, 2012

    If he was crafty enough to fool his own wife about his supposed mental illness the whole time they were married then he was very much in control of his actions.

    I just hope the case goes to the jury before another juror is dismissed. The longer the defense can drag this out the better chance they have of forcing a new trial.