Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County jury that sent Jason Williford to prison for the rest of his life for the murder two years ago of state school board member Kathy Taft initially was split on whether he should have been put to death for the crime.
The six men and six women found Williford, 32, guilty June 1 of first-degree rape and first-degree murder and was then tasked with deciding on a sentence.
That came Thursday, after more than five hours of deliberation and 12 days of testimony that included graphic details about the crime, Williford's life and the heartbreak Taft's death brought to both her and Williford's families
A female juror, who did not want to be identified, said Friday that she and several other jurors felt that Williford deserved to die and that a few others were undecided.
She did not say what the initial split was, because the jury's foreman asked others not to reveal what it was.
The juror said that, when Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner was polling jurors to ensure the decision was unanimous, she thought about saying no.
But then, she said, she looked at Taft's four grown children and decided that they needed to be able to move on with their lives and the process of grieving for their mother.
Some jurors declined interviews Friday, saying it was too soon for them to talk publicly about the trial. Others could not be reached.
Taft, 62, of Greenville, was recovering from surgery at a home in Raleigh when Williford broke into the house on the morning of March 6, 2010, raped and beat her in the head with a heavy object.
Defense attorneys said that it was a rock that Williford had been using to try to break into other homes in the same neighborhood to get an adrenaline rush.
They admitted that he raped and killed Taft but argued that the crimes were not first-degree because he lacked the mental capacity to plan them and to fully understand the consequences of his actions.
Numerous mental disorders, as well as a night of drinking and prescription drug abuse, factored into Taft's attack, they said.
Taft's family said Thursday that they were grateful for the jury's service.
"Please know you have given our family the gift of moving forward with our lives," Taft's oldest daughter, Jessica Gorall, said. "My mother would have been mortified to know what you all have had to endure."