Local News

DNA match led to arrest in schools official's death

Posted April 19, 2010 12:54 p.m. EDT
Updated April 19, 2010 6:49 p.m. EDT

— Police used DNA evidence to identify a Raleigh man as a suspect in the slaying of State Board of Education member Kathy Taft, sources told WRAL News.

Jason Keith Williford, 30, of 2812-D Wayland Drive, was arrested Friday at a campground at Lake Jordan and was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape in the death of Taft.

During a brief court appearance Monday afternoon, Williford asked for a court-appointed attorney, and the North Carolina Capital Defender's Office assigned Diane Savage of Chapel Hill and Ernest Conner of Greenville to the case.

Williford's next court hearing was set for May 10. He is being held without bond in the Wake County jail.

Taft, 62, died March 9 at WakeMed, three days after she was assaulted at the 2710 Cartier Drive home of a friend and suffered a severe head injury.

Her sister, Dina Arnold Holton, of Oriental, called 911 on March 6 to report finding Taft was bloodied and unresponsive. She thought Taft was having complications from neck surgery she had the previous day. After Taft was taken to the hospital, a surgeon realized that she had been assaulted, and a medical exam also turned up evidence of a sexual assault.

Police took bed linens, clothes and other items from the home and obtained some DNA evidence from the scene, according to search warrants. To eliminate people as possible suspects, officers later asked nearby residents for DNA samples.

Sources said Williford, who lives less than a quarter-mile from the Cartier Drive home where Taft was attacked, refused to provide DNA to police, which made investigators suspicious. Officers then followed him for a while and picked up one of his discarded cigarette butts, which was then sent to the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing, sources said.

The DNA gave police probable cause for police to arrest Williford and search his apartment, sources said.

Police Chief Harry Dolan said there are no other persons of interest in the case.

Williford's parents, sister and wife sat quietly behind Taft's children during the court hearing Monday. Pam Williford said neither she nor her husband wanted to comment on their son's case.

"They are devastated, as you might imagine, just absolutely crushed, going through a hard time which will last for the rest of their lives," Rev. Skip Williams, pastor of Benson Memorial United Methodist Church, said of the Williford family.

"Right or wrong, they're going to stand with him. They are just in deep distress both for him and for Kathy's family and what has happened. It's not a happy time for anybody," Williams said.

He said Williford's family also is supporting his wife, Jessica.

"She is noticeably distraught and (is) just waiting to see how this turns out," he said.