Expert: Booze, drugs kept Williford from planning attack
Posted May 24, 2012
Updated May 25, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Despite more than seven hours of drinking and snorting Ritalin, Jason Williford seemed fine when he took a friend home early on the morning of March 6, 2010 – hours before state school board member Kathy Taft was beaten and raped as she slept in her bed – the friend testified Thursday.
But an expert also taking the witness stand in Williford's first-degree murder trial said the alcohol and drugs, coupled with sexual addiction, contributed to Taft's attack.
"Without any doubt, whatsoever, those drugs did impact his brain and his behavior that night," said Wilkie Wilson, a Duke University research professor who studies the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain.
The whiskey and beer would have corrupted Williford's ability to plan, leaving him capable of only performing repeated behaviors, Wilson said.
The Ritalin would have caused him to become hyper-focused on his sex addiction, he said. Used improperly, the drug can cause aggression and anger, among other side effects.
"He was in pharmacological trouble, in my opinion," Wilson said.
The drinking and drug use began around 5 p.m. on March 5, 2010, when Williford showed up at Dan Bartose's home with a half-gallon bottle of Old Crow whiskey that was half empty.
"He seemed like he was a little depressed, and I didn't like the look in his eye," Bartose said. "It seemed like he was a little drunk. I had alarm bells going off."
According to Bartose, the two spent the rest of the day finishing off the bottle, snorting Ritalin – Williford called it "legalized speed" – and playing video games.
Later that evening, they went back to Williford's apartment on Wayland Drive, had a few beers, smoked some marijuana and snorted more Ritalin.
They parted ways sometime after 12:30 a.m.
"I thought he was fine at that point," Bartose said. "I went right to bed and went to sleep."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys both agree that, Williford drove home and sometime later, he walked a couple blocks to 2710 Cartier Drive where Taft was staying, broke in and beat and raped her.
The 62-year-old from Greenville died from her injuries three days later.
Where both sides disagree is whether Williford intentionally committed the crime.
Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, say he knew what he was doing and committed first-degree burglary, first-degree rape and first-degree murder.
Defense attorneys, however, contend that he didn't have the mental capacity to form the necessary intent for first-degree convictions, partly because of the alcoholism and sexual addiction.
"What he did was activities that he was familiar with doing," Wilson said, referring to Williford's past experiences of looking into breaking into houses.
"I think it's a question about what planning really means," he added. "In this case, he executed the act, but did he really think a lot about it and do it differently than he had before? No."
Wilson said he does not think Williford planned to attack Taft.
"I have no sense from the evidence that I looked at and from my interview with him that he planned anything like that," he said. "I don't think he expected – he was shocked to find anybody in (the house)."
On cross-examination, however, he admitted to prosecutors that he wasn't qualified to come to that conclusion.
Patricia Catanio, a clinical social worker and certified sexual addictions expert, testified earlier Thursday that Williford suffers from a severe sexual addiction that had gone undiagnosed until they met in February 2012.
His most severe issues, she said, involved drugs, alcohol, pornography and others involving cross-dressing and what she referred to as "object sex."
Defense attorneys say that, although Williford sought therapy growing up and as an adult, he was never properly treated because the extent of his mental issues was never known until after his arrest.
His mother testified Wednesday that she saw signs of behavior problems as he grew up and tried to get him help but that she was in denial about some of the things that pointed to sexual addiction. She had hoped he was telling his doctors without her having to mention her concerns, she said.
Dr. Richard Weisler, who treated Williford in the second half of 2009, testified that he was also unaware of any signs of sexual addiction. He diagnosed Williford with alcohol and cannabis dependence and prescribed him lithium for bi-polar disorder.
Williford started canceling appointments after Dec. 15, 2009, Weisler said, and he didn't hear from Williford again until March 16, 2010.
Among other symptoms, Weisler said, Williford was minimally depressed, had trouble concentrating, felt worthless and indicated that he had thought about wanting to hurt or kill himself. He also indicated that he had made poor judgments and bad decisions.
Williford's wife testified this week that she only knew her husband was seeing a psychiatrist and taking lithium, but never knew of any specific issues.
Friends, like Bartose, also didn't know about Williford's mental problems.
The two had started a band together and shared many of the same interests – books, movies, board games and video games.
They talked about life and work, but Williford never talked to him about sex or pornography, Bartose said.
After the morning of March 6, 2010, Bartose didn't hear from his friend for at least a week.
They saw each other several other times before Williford's April 16, 2010, arrest – including once when Williford went to church with him.
On several occasions, they talked about God.
"The one time that really stands out, we were in my driveway. He was smoking a cigarette. He asked me, 'Can God forgive you for whatever you do?' Bartose testified. "I thought that was kind of a chilling question."