Kathy Taft

Death the only just sentence in Taft's murder, state says

Posted June 6, 2012
Updated June 7, 2012

— State school board member Kathy Taft's 2010 rape and murder were so brutal that the death penalty is the only fitting punishment for her killer, Wake County prosecutors told jurors Tuesday in the final phase of Jason Williford's first-degree murder trial.

"Nothing we do here is going to bring back Kathy, but this judgment and this sentence will help her family – and more importantly the community – put this heinous act behind us, knowing justice was done, that law and order did prevail and that she did not die in vain," Assistant District Attorney David Saacks said.

Williford, 32, sat in tears for part of the state's closing argument, as Saacks reminded jurors that that Williford – and no one else – is to blame for his actions.

Kathy Taft Images: Taft murder case

"For all the pain that is going to be caused to him and anyone else, including his family, there is no other blame but to him and him alone," Saacks said. "The defendant has both literally and figuratively made his bed, and now he must lie in it."

In an impassioned plea to spare Williford's life, defense attorneys said mental illness – depression, sexual addiction, alcohol and drug use – contributed to Taft's attack.

"We're asking you to take into consideration his life and his mental illnesses, only so that you decide what the appropriate punishment is for Jason and that you decide whether it's absolutely necessary to extinguish him from humanity," defense attorney Ernest Conner said.

The jury deliberated for less than six hours last week before finding Williford guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree rape. It started deliberating Williford's fate around 3:15 p.m.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Trish Jacobs State closing arguments, pt 1

Taft, 62, of Greenville, was recovering from surgery in a Raleigh home, two blocks from where Williford lived, when he broke into the house in the early hours of March 6, 2010, beat her several times in the head with a rock and raped her so severely that she bled for up to five hours before she was found and continued to bruise thereafter.

"We don't know if the first blow knocked her unconscious. What we do know is that she woke up and she gasped because the defendant was in her bedroom in the middle of the night," assistant prosecutor Trish Jacobs told jurors. "Imagine that fear and what it must have been like for Kathy Taft. She knew, at that moment – however short – that she wasn't safe."

Wake County Assistant District Attorney David Saacks State closing arguments, pt 2

Saacks added that none of the defense's evidence outweighed the violent nature of the crime to warrant life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"You simply can't escape what the defendant did to Kathy," he said. "It's the rape that makes it worse. It is violence on top of violence. This is sexual damage, sexual injury."

But defense attorneys reminded jurors that prison life would be difficult for Williford and that he would never be a threat to society again.

Attorney Diane Savage Defense closing arguments, pt 1

"With your guilty verdict you have ensured that Jason will die in prison," his attorney, Diane Savage said. "The time and manner of Jason's death is what you decide next."

Executing Williford, attorney Michael Driver said, would only pile more violence on top of violence and cause more pain for innocent people.

"Killing Jason won't bring Kathy back. What it will do, it will leave another family without a person that they love. We know it will do that," he said. "Putting (his parents) Pam and Keith Williford through that unspeakable horror of watching their son die – how can that bring any peace to the Taft family?"

Attorney Michael Driver Defense closing arguments, pt 2

Defense attorney Ernest Conner Jr. pleaded with jurors to consider Williford's mental disorders and to use mercy when they decide.

"We are begging for your mercy. We are not asking for forgiveness," Conner said. "For what you convicted Jason of, we could not and would not ask for forgiveness. But there is a time to be better than the things we condemn."

Williford is the fourth person for whom Wake County prosecutors have sought the death penalty since 2007, when executions were effectively halted in North Carolina because of legal challenges to how they are carried out.

Attorney Ernest Connor Jr. Defense closing arguments, pt 3

The last time Wake County jurors imposed the death penalty was in the case of Bryon Waring, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2007 in the death of Lauren Redman, who was stabbed and cut more than 20 times inside her Raleigh apartment in 2005.

In 2010, prosecutors unsuccessfully sought the death penalty against Samuel James Cooper, who was convicted of killing five people in a series of murders between 2006 and 2007.

In September 2011, jurors were deadlocked 11-1 in the sentencing of Joshua Stepp, a former soldier convicted of sexually assaulting and beating to death his 10-month-old stepdaughter. He received life in prison as a result.

Mental health issues were a large part of the defense in all three of those cases.


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  • piene2 Jun 11, 2012

    "PeaceRH; you pray he is able to LEAD Bible Study while he is in prison?? GET A GRIP; I will hope he looses his eyesight so he cannot see a thing. As if a book will somehow help him to help others? Blasphemous, an abomination this little "man". He is a Zero. A nothing. I don't care how much his "family" loves him.....as soon as I saw his mother testify it was clear where the issues with this rapist lie: With his mother; as they always do. His hatred for women is so clear; so well defined after his heinous acts. The Death Penalty faulty or not; is the only sentence for this coward. Period end of story. The fact that anyone thinks he should be given three hots and a cot is sickening to me; he doesn't deserve to breathe the very air we breathe. Kat

    Strong comment to follow.:)

  • piene2 Jun 8, 2012

    So the screaming mob of peasants with their torches, pitchforks and cudgels, pounding on the castle doors, demanding death have been repelled. It is refreshing to see common sense prevail for a change.

  • Skywatch_NC Jun 7, 2012

    Prayers and thoughts with the Taft family. ((((HUGS))))

  • charmcclainlovesdogs2 Jun 7, 2012

    you'd receive a resounding YES!!!


    Then why not make a sincere way and feed the less fortunate children. That would be a good thing for YOU to do.

  • charmcclainlovesdogs2 Jun 7, 2012

    you'd receive a resounding YES!!!


    What is your point? You cannot keep prisoners in prison without feeding them and giving them health care. You should educate yourself on prison life so that you will know what the law allows.

  • charmcclainlovesdogs2 Jun 7, 2012

    He received life in prison. Except the verdict and move on. He is still locked up and is going no where. Taking his life, will certainly no bring Ms. Taft back.

  • muggs Jun 7, 2012

    What in the world is taking so long?

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 7, 2012

    And I bet if anyone asked a hungry child in this country if they'd like to have that supposed unhealthy meal criminals accused of murder and worse are receiving in our country's prisons, you'd receive a resounding YES!!!

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 7, 2012

    karma - And as for a death sentence not being carried out for 20-30 years, that's another problem of our justice system - not an excuse for not having the punishment fit the crime.

  • iknowmyschnitzel Jun 7, 2012

    Whutchuneed....but even if he is sentenced to death, this will not be carried out for the next 20-30 years, if ever. So, what exactly is the point? You can never be completely assured. So, why bother with all the emotional baggage? And GREAT meals? Great, healthy meals are by far, not the staple of the inmate diet. They are feeding on garbage that cuts their lifespan down considerably. If you want the government to cut back on their spending, they should be feeding them better and promoting healthier lifestyles instead of giving them money to work to support their honey bun habits.