Kathy Taft

Five jurors seated in trial of Kathy Taft's accused killer

Posted April 20, 2012 3:36 p.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2012 5:49 p.m. EDT

— Five jurors have been seated as of Friday in the capital murder trial of a Raleigh man accused of raping and beating State Board of Education member Kathy Taft two years ago.

Raleigh police say Taft, 62, of Greenville, was recovering from surgery at a home in Raleigh on March 6, 2010, when she was attacked. She died three days later.

Jason Williford, 32, was arrested more than a month later and indicted on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree forcible rape and first-degree burglary. If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty.

Jury selection started April 9 in the trial, which is expected to last several weeks. Twelve jurors, plus alternates, are needed.

DNA evidence that led to Williford's arrest is expected to be a big part of the case. Defense attorneys have unsuccessfully sought to have it thrown out of the trial, saying it was improperly collected and contaminated. They have also raised issues about the accreditation of state analysts who tested the evidence.

Williford's mental state could also be part of his defense. He has undergone a state-ordered psychiatric evaluation, and, although they haven't elaborated, defense attorneys say information on his laptop is tied to his psychological history.

Taft, a mother of four and grandmother of five, had served on the state school board for more than 15 years.