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Son: Suspect in Taft's slaying 'pure evil'

The children of State Board of Education member Kathy Taft say while the man suspected of killing and raping her is "pure evil," she should not be remembered for her death, but for the good she did.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The children of State Board of Education member Kathy Taft say while the man suspected of killing and raping her is "pure evil," she should not be remembered for her death, but for the good she did.

Jason Keith Williford, 30, of 2812-D Wayland Drive, was arrested Friday at a campground at Lake Jordan, police spokesman Jim Sughrue said. Taft, 62, died March 9 at WakeMed after being attacked in a Raleigh home three days earlier.

"To me, he is pure evil," Taft's son, Jonathan Taft, said Saturday during a news conference in Greenville.

Jonathan Taft and his sister, Page Fuqua, said that Williford, who lived in the same neighborhood where Taft was killed, is a stranger to them.

"I just feel like I have to see him. I have to see his face," Fuqua said. "He was the last person that saw my mother essentially alive."

The children said news of the arrest brought them a sense of relief.

"Detective Hodge just said, 'We got him.' I was speechless," Fuqua said. "I said, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'We are sure.'"

Taft had been staying at the 2710 Cartier Drive home of a friend while recovering from neck surgery. On March 6, her sister, Dina Arnold Holton, of Oriental, called 911 to say that Taft was having complications and was unresponsive. A surgeon realized that Taft had been assaulted, and a medical exam also turned up evidence of a sexual assault.

"That was the most painful thing for me personally, knowing that she was there by herself, unconscious for so long," Jonathan Taft said.

Police have not released details of what led to Williford's arrest, but campers saw Williford being taken into custody Friday at the Poplar Point recreation area at Lake Jordan.

“They (police) had the thing set up perfectly. We were just sitting here and before you know it, they came up very quickly, did what they needed to do,” camper John Rakosky said Saturday.

"A few vehicles pulled up and they (police) kind of swarmed him, got him off the beach, put him in cuffs, took him away,” camper Allen Childress said.

Chief Harry Dolan credited Williford's arrest to "fundamental, what's often referred to as 'gumshoe' detective work." Dolan said that DNA was "instrumental" and praised lab technicians as "unsung heroes" in the investigation.

Williford was uncooperative in the investigation and was identified as a suspect a few days ago, the police chief said. That identification came independently of a review of his criminal record – he has convictions for breaking-and-entering in Wake County.

There are no other persons of interest in the case, and Williford is not a suspect in any other crime, Dolan said.

Williford, who WRAL learned Saturday is married, was being held without bond in the Wake County jail Saturday. His father, Michael Williford, did not want to comment on the charges but said: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Taft family."

"The most important thing is that he is not on the streets and cannot do this to somebody else," Jonathan Taft said.

The children said they were glad the arrest will put rumors about the case to rest.

"I feel like my aunt's name was dragged through the mud a bit," Fuqua said. "We knew it was not her and had nothing to do with her."

"We can start to focus on her life, and we don't have to keep asking these crazy questions," Jonathan Taft said.

The family plans to spread Taft's ashes at the beach this summer.

"I am ready for everybody to start thinking about the good she did, rather than the harm that he caused," her son said.

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