Kathy Taft

Kathy Taft's killer guilty of first-degree murder

Posted June 1, 2012
Updated June 4, 2012

— A Raleigh man was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder in the 2010 rape and beating death of North Carolina state school board member Kathy Taft.

The jury of six men and six women, which deliberated for about 5½ hours before reaching its verdict, must now decide whether Jason Keith Williford will spend the rest of his life in jail or face the death penalty.

A sentencing hearing is expected to begin Monday at 9:30 a.m.

Williford, 32, was also found guilty of first-degree rape and non-felonious breaking and entering in connection with Taft's March 6, 2010, attack.

He sat quietly, head bowed, as Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner read aloud the verdicts. As bailiffs escorted him from the courtroom, he turned around and told his parents, sister and grandmother that he loved them.

Williford's family did not want to comment Friday afternoon.

Taft, a 15-year member of the state school board, mother of four and grandmother of five, was recovering from cosmetic surgery at the Raleigh home of a longtime friend when Williford, who lived less than two blocks away, broke into the house and attacked her. She died three days later.

The verdicts brought some relief to her children, who said that, although they are happy to see justice served, it will not bring back their mother.

"There's no relief in terms of feeling our loss or the loss that Williford's family is feeling," Taft's oldest son, Thomas Taft, said. "It's a step in the grieving process, but it's by no means the last."

Jason Williford Jason Williford found guilty

Defense attorneys, who urged jurors to return a second-degree murder verdict, admitted Williford attacked Taft but argued that it was fueled by a perfect storm of drugs, alcohol and mental illness and that he did not have the capacity to plan out the crime or fully realize the consequences of his actions.

But prosecutors argued that, although Williford had mental issues, the unemployed musician knew exactly what he was doing when he broke into the house.

Thomas Taft Kathy Taft's son: Justice served

"He's calculated, cognizant and cold, and it's those actions and that personality disorder that led to Kathy's demise," Wake County District Attorney David Saacks said in closing argument Thursday. "He took Kathy's life, and he took her dignity and he did it all for his own pleasure."

Jurors found Williford guilty of first-degree murder under what's known as the theory of malice, premeditation and deliberation, which means that they found that he intended to attack and kill Taft. He was also found guilty under the state's first-degree felony murder rule in perpetration of rape.

Jessica Gorall, Paige Fuqua Conviction brings relief, Taft daughters say

Williford is the fourth person in Wake County tried on a capital murder charge since 2007, when legal challenges to how the death penalty is carried out in North Carolina effectively put executions on hold.

Only one of the previous three, however, has been sentenced to death in that time.

"I think (the prosecution) made a statement – you just don't get to go out and do such heinous crimes and get away with it," Taft's oldest daughter, Jessica Gorall, said.

Taft's family said they have no opinion on what Williford's fate should be but said that it will be a difficult process – one they just want to try to put behind them.

"I feel like I've been swimming for a long time and that I kind of get to come up and get a breath of air, and I'm looking forward to coming up and grasping that fresh air," Gorall said. "I'll always miss my mom. This will never bring back mom, but, at least now, I just feel like I can breathe."

53 Comments

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  • Hill55 Jun 1, 7:53 p.m.

    Life without parole will work just fine.

  • boneymaroney13 Jun 1, 7:32 p.m.

    Now for the innocense commission to get him out!!! Before I go, is he allowed to challenge any part of these proceeding due to his race and the jury? Just asking.

  • Uhavenoclu Jun 1, 7:32 p.m.

    The cause to all effect is Why? , find out why instead of jumping to conclusions and assuming. You will see the truth and save yourself alot of pain and suffering.

  • Grasshopper007 Jun 1, 7:21 p.m.

    I knew Jasson years ago in high school. I was not surprised to hear the verdict; however empathetic for him and his family. Murder is horrific but when you knew the murderer it makes it more complex. I never would have thought of him as a killer. Praying for him and his family tonight.

  • Uhavenoclu Jun 1, 7:16 p.m.

    The worst kind of theft and murder is killing someones soul and stealing their true self from them...But "Forgive them father for they know not what they do"
    The Bible is about your soul people nt about this palce..Earth is your body.

  • lgodwin2 Jun 1, 7:05 p.m.

    Thank God. Finally, there are jurors who want and seek justice. Get off the mental issues. I hope and pray he gets the death penalty. Public hanging needs to be brought back to the justice system. Right is right and wrong is wrong. The verdict doesn't bring Kathy back, but I hope it brings some sense of peace to the family. They deserve it.

  • The Fox Jun 1, 6:47 p.m.

    [I thought this man was declared a little mental so how can they even consider the death penalty since i thought they ruled previously people couldn't that had mental issues..]

    You are refering to those with a low IQs. Even a genius can 'be mental.'

  • gregg45 Jun 1, 6:44 p.m.

    relic. if this had been a black woman,, not well known,, do you really think this would have taken 2 years to come to a verdict,,as i said b4, horrific crime, and, he needs to be locked up. Paxil, Zanax, Zolof and hundreds of other drugs are taken by people daily with some side-effects but not these. I grow tired of the defense attorneys and their crocodille tears in these cases.
    Relic
    June 1, 2012 5:01 p.m........ some side effects,, wow,, what would you call ,a really bad side effect.. i turned into evil, paxil and zanax, was the cause, it is in the hospital records,, off 4 3 years , and, the world in my place, is better,, if you need help seek it,, and btw,, aint no body gonna read this that needs help,

  • PeaceRH Jun 1, 6:41 p.m.

    I pray for both families in this case. Of course the Taft family and also Jason's family. It has to be awful to have your son convicted of such horrible acts. My heart goes out to to him mother, father, and sister for being put through such heartache. I hope the Taft family will have some peace after this conviction... if that is possible. I do not think people with severe mental illnesses should qualify for the death penalty. In his case I do believe he has several several mental illnesses... not that mental illness are an excuse to murder. I hope he gets the meds he needs while he sits in jail for the rest of his life.

  • johnnyislate Jun 1, 6:35 p.m.

    Premeditation is not the same thing as preplanning. Williford was able to premeditate his crime of murder in the seconds it took for him to climb on top of Kathy Taft and bash her head in at least 4 times with a rock he was carrying in his hand. He'll probably get life in prison. Williford is mentally ill but he's not insane. He knew what he was doing that night even though he drank and took drugs. He wasn't suffering from diminished capacity to an extent that he couldn't commit a burglary, rape, and attack leading to Taft's death, and understand what he was doing, and deciding to do it anyway. He's still responsible.

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