By The Raleigh Telegram
RALEIGH – The trial of the suspect accused of brutally raping and murdering state school board member Kathy Taft begins today in Raleigh. On trial is Jason Keith Williford, a young musician who is accused of severely beating Taft, age 62, who died from her injuries three days later in March of 2010. Attorneys for the prosecution and Williford will be choosing jury members in the trial starting today in the Wake County Courthouse.
The high profile case received immediate attention back in 2010. From Greenville, Taft was at a friend’s home off of Oberlin Road recovering from cosmetic surgery when she was found the next day by her sister who was staying in the house with her. After she was taken to the hospital, it was also determined that she had been raped. It has been reported that her attacker had possibly come in through the front door, which possibly was unlocked.
The day after the murder, Taft’s sister who has been identified as Dina Arnold Holton of Oriental, North Carolina, called into the 911 center, reporting that Kathy Taft had foam and blood in her mouth.
“She’s in the bed, I cannot get her up, she’s all wrapped up in gauze,” she said. “There’s blood everywhere, everywhere.”
Her sister says in the phone call that Taft was snoring loudly when she “went upstairs around 3 [am] for the night.”
Williford became a suspect in the case after the police department had asked for DNA samples from men in the immediate neighborhood and he had refused to give a sample. WRAL-TV reported at the time that Williford had discarded a cigarette, which police took to the SBI crime lab. Police allegedly used the sample to match his DNA with evidence from the rape and murder investigation.
At a press conference in 2010 announcing the arrest of Williford, Raleigh Police Chief Harry P. Dolan said that police investigators believe that Williford acted alone and that he was their “first and only suspect.”
“We have no reason to believe that anyone else is involved,” said Dolan at the press conference at the time.
When asked by a reporter at the time if there was any connection between Kathy Taft and Williford, the police chief said they had not found any. No motive has been given for the crime, but Williford has a criminal history including breaking and entering. According to the North Carolina Department of Corrections, Williford’s arrest record included a 1997 arrest for misdemeanor breaking and entering and a 2001 arrest for felony breaking and entering. According to those records, Williford received a suspended sentence and probation for both of those arrests.
“We believe this was a random act of violence,” said Raleigh Police Chief Dolan at the time of the arrest.
The DNA evidence will be crucial to the trial. Already, the defense counsel has asked that the evidence be excluded, but that motion has been denied. Police Chief Harry Dolan said that with no tips in this case, the DNA is “clearly” what led them to arrest Williford.
At the time of the arrest, a local bartender in Raleigh told the Telegram that they had met Williford around town at Slim’s, a downtown bar, and that he was a “quiet” person. Williford was married at the time of the murder.
During a press conference in April of 2010, it was evident the arrest in the high profile case relieved many people who were concerned that a person who would rape and murder a school board member could be loose in the city. Chief Dolan at the time said that it had been a priority for the department to solve the murder.
“[They have put in] countless hours and have been devoted to solving the crime,” he at the time, calling it “extraordinary work.”
During his short speech before taking questions at that press conference, Chief Dolan said that the case had been a very vexing one.
“This was truly a difficult case in many respects,” he said. ::
Article Posted: Monday, April 9th, 2012.
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