Kathy Taft

Williford jurors to consider second-degree murder in Taft case

Posted May 30, 2012
Updated May 31, 2012

— 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.

Kathy Taft Images: Taft murder case

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.

17 Comments

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  • armyLT0620 May 31, 12:35 p.m.

    From the article: "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."

    And where does rape fall into this? I guess he did not know what he doing when he committed that crime either. I'm sure the rock in his pocket just happened to be there. I know lots of normal, productive members of society who do not break into houses to rape and murder other productive members of society that carry a rock in their pocket just because.

  • tigresspen May 31, 12:33 p.m.

    Pros is lining out the intent with premeditation and intent of JW the night he attacked and raped Taft causing her death. His words are exactly how I thought during the trial.

  • Dirty_Water May 31, 12:04 p.m.

    Tcheuchter said, "And you know better than the judge? Its giving the jury more choices and may avoid hung jury. And no he is not going to get out in 7....he will be lucky if he ever gets out."

    A hung jury? When his own attorneys admitted he killed her? No, the jury will deliberate life without versus the (presently ineffectual and unable to be performed) death penalty.

    Anyone who thinks this is a spur of the moment thing when he carried the rock into the bedroom does not comprehend premeditation.

  • bradsher98 May 31, 11:56 a.m.

    I just watched and listened to the defense closing argument. It was too long and siounded like a preacher. He attacked the testimony of a doctor. It was a cold blooded act of murder and rape. He should get life with no parole.

    Brad 98

  • ss3510 May 31, 11:32 a.m.

    The way the States in the U.S. hand out Life sentences, the names of their Prisons should NOT be Department of Corrections becasue they are not planning on Correcting anyone.

    It is the Department of Punishment!

  • jmf1073 3.0 May 31, 11:10 a.m.

    He planned this out, which is why he took a rock inside with him. 1st degree murder should be the charge.

  • jurydoc May 31, 10:27 a.m.

    Jimmy - The felony murder rule -- that if someone dies during the commission of a (non-murder) felony ALLOWS for a first degree murder charge, it does not require it nor is it automatic. The DA has total discretion as to charging. And, Williford WAS charged with first degree murder. The judge is allowing consideration of the lesser charge of second degree.

  • rcrdngcountry May 31, 10:06 a.m.

    second degree, don't see how it can be. it seems pretty much
    cold blooded murder, which should carry the death penalty.

  • Jimmytwotimes May 31, 9:50 a.m.

    Isn't there a law that says if someone dies while you are commiting a felony than its automatic first degree murder charge? Rape and robbery are felonys and someone died while they were being commited, shouldn't that be First Degree Murder?

  • tigresspen May 31, 8:58 a.m.

    I'm okay with the jury having a second degree to consider. That first is still there. If state gives a powerful closing to remind the jurors of the solid evidence in the case then it should be a verdict of first.

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