Kathy Taft

Did Taft's accused killer realize consequences of attack?

Posted May 25, 2012 3:47 p.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2012 1:46 p.m. EDT

— Serious depression along with alcohol and drug abuse significantly impaired Jason Williford's ability to think through the consequences of his actions on the morning he attacked state school board member Kathy Taft, a forensic psychologist testified Friday in Williford's capital murder trial.

James Hilkey said the 32-year-old Williford had relapsed from a period of sobriety and abstinence from sexual deviations, had recently lost his job and that his hopes of beating his mental struggles had been dashed.

"He had reverted back to behaviors that he had tried to control, and he again had failed," Hilkey said. "He had started to drink again. The sexual activities had increased. He had lost his job."

At issue in Williford's trial is not whether he attacked Taft but whether he was capable of forming the necessary mental intent to warrant a first-degree murder conviction.

Prosecutors say Taft, 62, was asleep in the Raleigh home of her longtime companion on March 6, 2010, when Williford intentionally broke into the house, beat her in the head with a blunt object and raped her. She died three days later.

Defense attorneys claim he was acting under a diminished mental capacity stemming from a variety of mental disorders, including alcoholism, impulse control disorder and sexual addiction.

According to the defense, Williford had been snorting Ritalin and drinking and was looking for an empty house to break into for an adrenaline rush.

He had been walking around the neighborhood, checking mailboxes, when he came upon 2710 Cartier Drive – where Taft was staying – and discovered a large amount of mail in the box.

Thinking the house was empty, his attorneys say, he used a piece of a security sign to jimmy the door lock. When he got inside, he realized someone was at the home and started to leave.

But on his way out, he noticed Taft asleep in her room. She awoke, startled, and Williford hit her in the head three times with a rock he had been carrying and raped her, the defense says.

Hilkey testified that, in his opinion, Williford was impaired in his ability to weigh the consequences of his actions.

"I do not believe that Mr. Williford had the ability to deliberate or consider the consequences of his behavior," Hilkey said. "I do think there was an element of planning, and I do think that he could plan to some extent."

On cross-examination by prosecutor David Saacks, Hilkey said he believed the breaking-and-entering was "thrill-based," based on Williford's history of similar crimes.

When asked about the assault and rape, "I don't have an opinion about that," Hilkey said.

Hilkey also testified that Williford has expressed remorse for what happened and for the pain inflicted upon both Taft's family and his.

During an interview last summer, Hilkey said, Williford told him that, after the attack, he went home less than two blocks away and, horrified by what he had done, wept on his kitchen floor before going to bed.

"People do not choose to be an addict. It's not something that's pleasant. It's an insidious, destructive set of behaviors that is marked by immediate pleasure followed by intense pain and, oftentimes, guilt and shame," Hilkey said.

To that, Saacks asked if that meant every alcoholic who commits a crime should be excused from taking responsibility for his or her actions.

"Absolutely not," Hilkey replied.

"Does it mean that every sex addict who commits a rape is automatically excused from that rape, simply because they have this impulse control problem with sex?" Saacks asked.

"Absolutely not," Hilkey said.