Defense portrays Taft's accused killer as mentally damaged
Posted May 23, 2012
Updated May 24, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — The man facing a potential death sentence in the fatal attack of North Carolina state school board member Kathy Taft comes from a family with a history of depression, alcoholism and other mental disorders, his mother told jurors in his first-degree murder trial Wednesday.
Testifying for nearly three hours, Pam Williford recounted years of her son Jason Williford's struggles with addiction, anger issues, sexual deviancy and his never-ending cycle of failing to succeed in life.
Williford, who has sat stoic with his head down for most of his trial, became emotional twice during the testimony.
Once was when his mother detailed a family mental health history that included bipolar disorder, electroshock therapy, drug overdoses and suicide.
He wiped tears from his eyes a second time as she talked about how, despite all the problems she had with him, there were still times that he brought joy to her life.
"He's my son," Pam Williford said. "I brought him into this world, and I do love him."
Prosecutors, meanwhile, wrapped up their case earlier Wednesday after calling 23 witnesses to testify about how, they say, Williford intentionally broke into the Raleigh home where Taft had been sleeping on the morning of March 6, 2010, beat her in the head multiple times and raped her.
She died from her injuries three days later.
Defense attorneys don't dispute that their client is responsible for Taft's death but contend he did not have the mental capacity to form the necessary intent required for a first-degree murder conviction.
They say that he has suffered his entire life from a variety of mental disorders, including alcohol dependency, bipolar disorder and impulse control disorder.
Pam Williford testified that her son was different than most children. At a young age, he was temperamental and aggressive and found it difficult to make friends.
He started failing school in eighth grade and dropped out of high school in eleventh grade. He was always angry and argued with his parents and older sister over anything and everything, Pam Williford said.
"It was always hard to get Jason to talk to you. Sometimes, it was impossible," she said. "It was so hard to get him to sit down without being angry and screaming."
Lying was just a pattern that continued from eighth grade onward, Pam Williford said, and he even lied about things he didn't need to lie about.
By age 15, he had started drinking and was getting in trouble for vandalism, breaking and entering and smoking marijuana.
The Willifords repeatedly sought treatment for their son and even went to family counseling to deal with his anger issues, Pam Williford said.
At age 14, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was committed to a mental hospital as an adult after he talked about killing himself.
But defense attorneys say that the extent of his mental health issues were never known until after Williford's arrest for Taft's murder, because he was never forthcoming with his doctors, family or friends.
"I don't think he gave me a full and accurate accounting of his mental history," said psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Hillsman, who testified first for the defense.
Hillman diagnosed Williford with depression and alcoholism in February 2005 and treated him for the two, as well as ADHD, for about nine months.
During that time, he said, Williford reported that he was staying sober, maintaining a job and had started taking electronics classes at Wake Technical Community College.
Hillman said he eventually reduced Williford's depression medication and took him off of it in October 2005.
Williford never returned after that, Hillman said.
Another part of Williford's life that doctors never fully knew about were his sexual habits and tendencies.
Pam Williford said she found evidence that her son wore her pantyhose and underwear as well as his sister's prom dress. He had pornographic videos mailed to their home, called telephone sex lines and experimented sexually with vegetables, she said.
But they never mentioned the sexual issues to his doctors, Pam Williford said, partly because they didn't want to shame him. Instead, they hoped he was talking about them with his psychiatrist.
Looking back, she said, she wishes she had said something.
"Believe me, you don't know how much I wish we had made a different decision," Pam Williford told jurors.
There were also sexual habits she wasn't aware of, she said, until after he was arrested.
Williford charged $350 on her credit card, after Taft's death, for an escort, she said. She also wasn't aware that he would go on the Internet and solicit both men and women for sex.
Emails found on Williford's laptop computer included exchanges with both men and women about meeting up for sex and cross-dressing, the defense pointed out earlier Wednesday during testimony from Raleigh homicide detective Zeke Morse.