Williford jurors to consider second-degree murder in Taft case
Posted May 30, 2012
Updated May 31, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — Jurors deliberating in the murder trial of a man accused of raping and beating state school board member Kathy Taft will be able to consider a second-degree murder verdict when they deliberate, the judge presiding over the case said Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner also set closing arguments for Jason Keith Williford's trial for Thursday morning.
Williford, 32, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree rape and first-degree burglary in Taft's death.
The 62-year-old from Greenville had been recovering from surgery in Raleigh at the Cartier Drive home of her longtime companion on March 6, 2010, when, prosecutors say, Williford intentionally broke into the house and attacked Taft.
She died from severe brain injuries three days later.
Williford, who lived less than two blocks away, was arrested April 16, 2010, after DNA on Taft's bed sheet linked him to the attack. He could face the death penalty if he's convicted of first-degree murder.
Defense attorneys admit Williford attacked Taft but say he was incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions because of a variety of mental disorders, including alcohol dependency, impulse control disorder and sexual addiction.
Jurors must also consider verdicts of first-degree burglary, misdemeanor breaking and entering or not guilty on the burglary charge and guilty or not guilty on the first-degree rape charge.
Over a four-day period, several experts, as well as Williford's mother, outlined a history of mental health issues and behavioral problems that the defense contends factored into his actions on the morning that Taft was attacked.
The 32-year-old was upset after arguing with his wife and had been drinking, smoking marijuana and snorting Ritalin prior to the attack, witnesses said.
Witnesses testified that Williford had a history of breaking and entering for an adrenaline rush and broke into the house where Taft had been staying in an effort to "regain control" of himself.
Thinking the house was empty, he was surprised to find out people were inside. As he started to leave, he noticed Taft's bedroom door partially open.
Defense witnesses said he couldn't control his urge to leave, went into the room and, when she made a noise, hit her three times with a rock he had been carrying in his pocket.
Williford's brain chemistry had been altered by years of drug abuse, alcoholism and hypersexual disorder, defense attorneys say, making him incapable of forming intent to commit first-degree murder.
But Dr. Nicole Wolfe, a forensic psychiatrist testifying as a rebuttal witness for the state, said Tuesday and Wednesday that, although she found Williford did suffer from several mental disorders, including alcoholism, she believed he knew what he was doing, could control himself and realized the consequences of what he did.
It will be up for jurors to decide which experts to believe and the degree of crimes Williford might be guilty of.
A first-degree murder conviction would mean jurors would also decide on a life or death sentence.
The death penalty has been imposed only once in Wake County since 2007, when legal challenges to how executions are carried out in North Carolina effectively put executions on hold.