Local News

Death penalty sought in slaying of state education official

Posted December 16, 2010 2:57 p.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2010 3:21 p.m. EST

— Prosecutors said Thursday that they plan to seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing State Board of Education member Kathy Taft.

Taft, 62, of Greenville, died on March 9 from a fractured skull and extensive brain damage resulting from an attack three days earlier in a west Raleigh home.

She was recovering from plastic surgery at a friend's home on Cartier Drive when she was raped and beaten repeatedly on the head with a blunt object, according to an autopsy report.

Jason Keith Williford, 30, of 2812-D Wayland Drive, was arrested April 16 and charged with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape in the case. Investigators have said they do not believe the two knew each other.

Sources told WRAL News that Williford, who lives less than a quarter-mile from the Cartier Drive home where Taft was attacked, refused to provide DNA to police when they canvassed the area. That made investigators suspicious, so officers followed him for a while and picked up one of his discarded cigarette butts, sources said.

The cigarette butt was then sent to the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing, and the DNA found on it gave police probable cause to arrest Williford and search his apartment, sources said.

Police also have searched two e-mail accounts used by Williford and two of his laptops, looking for any evidence that he visited Internet sites or viewed photos of sexual assaults. They also searched for any files referring to Taft.