State refutes Williford defense's expert witnesses
Posted May 29, 2012
Updated May 30, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Prosecutors seeking the death penalty in the murder case of state school board member Kathy Taft called a forensic psychiatrist Tuesday to counter testimony from defense expert witnesses who said her accused killer was incapable of planning the crime or realizing the consequences of his actions.
Jason Keith Williford, 32, is charged with first-degree burglary, first-degree rape and first-degree murder in Taft's March 9, 2010, death.
The longtime state school official was recovering from surgery at a friend's home in Raleigh on the morning of March 6, 2010, when, prosecutors say, Williford intentionally broke into the house, beat her in the head with a blunt object and raped her.
Defense attorneys don't dispute that Williford is responsible for her death but claim he was acting under a diminished capacity stemming from a variety of mental disorders, including alcoholism, impulse control disorder and sexual addiction.
The attack was not planned, they say.
The defense's last witness, Ann Burgess, an expert in crime scene classification and offender typology, supported that claim with her testimony Tuesday that the scene of Taft's attack was not representative of a crime that was planned.
For example, she said, DNA that ultimately led police to Williford, was left at the crime scene, and there were no attempts to cover up the crime.
"There's a spontaneous, unplanned quality," she said. "My opinion is that he did not have a plan to rape or murder on that night. He certainly broke in and had wanted to break into an unoccupied home where he could play out in his mind the power control dynamics that he suffered from."
But prosecutors called Dr. Nicole Wolfe, as a rebuttal witness, who testified that although she diagnosed Williford with mental disorders – including alcohol dependency – she found nothing to suggest Williford was suffering from any kind of severe mental illness at the time of Taft's attack.
"I do not believe he had a mental disorder that prevented him from being able to make and carry out plans," Wolfe said.
Williford has a history of breaking into homes, she noted, and that it often involved some kind of sexual component, whether it was calling phone sex lines or watching pornography.
His actions during and after Taft's attack also suggested to her that he fully realized what he was doing and could control his urges and make decisions.
Despite multiple requests, Wolfe said Williford never spoke to her about the crime, and it wasn't until after her evaluation that she learned details he shared with mental health experts who testified for the defense.
Among those details were that Williford went home after the attack, washed his clothes and buried a pair of bloody socks.
"What he said about what he did afterwards was extremely telling," she said.
Another factor that led to her opinion, Wolfe said, had to do with "incredibly violent" images in books that Williford's parents took to him while she was evaluating him at Central Regional Hospital in Butner earlier this year.
One of the images portrayed a woman being assaulted with a stone to her head.
"It was just one factor that I considered, but I was just shocked that someone would have this level of graphic violence brought in while they were having a pretrial evaluation on a charge of murder," she said.
She felt so strongly about the photos that she attached the images to her report that she submitted to the court.
"My conclusion was that he liked violent material, which he had denied to me," Wolfe said.
Defense attorneys are expected to cross-examine Wolfe on Wednesday morning.
Also expected Wednesday is a conference between the defense, prosecution and judge on how to instruct jurors when it comes to deliberating the case.