State says conviction should be upheld in NC school official's murder
Posted May 21, 2014
Updated May 22, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Attorneys for North Carolina say the state Court of Appeals should uphold a Raleigh man's first-degree murder conviction for raping and killing state school board member Kathy Taft four years ago.
In a 40-page response to Jason Williford's appeal, the North Carolina Attorney General's Office said Wednesday that the judge correctly ruled when he allowed into evidence at the 2012 trial a cigarette butt that linked Williford to Taft's death.
Taft, 62, of Greenville, was recovering from surgery at the home of a friend – just blocks away from where Williford, 34, lived – in the early morning of March 6, 2010, when he broke into the house, raped her and repeatedly hit her in the head with a heavy object. She died three days later.
DNA from the crime scene matched Williford's DNA on the cigarette butt, which Raleigh detectives picked up after Williford threw it to the ground outside his apartment.
Defense attorneys argued before trial that police should have obtained a search warrant before collecting the butt.
But Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled it was admissible because Williford threw it away outside the boundary of his home in an area in which he had no reasonable expectation of privacy, the state's brief says.
"This court should affirm the decision of the trial court determining that defendant had no subjective or objective expectation of privacy in a cigarette butt he discarded in a common area open to other residents, passers-by, and guests," state attorneys said.
Williford admitted to raping and killing Taft, but defense attorneys argued that a variety of mental disorders combined with a night of drinking and prescription drug abuse kept their client from fully realizing the consequences of his actions.
Wake County prosecutors sought the death penalty, but jurors opted for a life sentence. Williford is currently in prison at Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville.