Local/State

Mother catalogs Williford's mental issues

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the trial of Jason Williford and the defense began presenting theirs.

Williford has pleaded not guilty to the brutal 2010 rape and murder of Kathy Taft - a member of the N.C. State Board of Education. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Defense attorneys have not disputed that Williford is responsible for the killing, but they maintain he has serious mental health issues and is not guilty of premeditated first-degree murder. Prosecutors must prove premeditation to send Williford to death row.

Police have said Williford attacked Taft inside a home on Cartier Lane in the late night hours of March 5 or the early morning hours of March 6, 2010. She died at WakeMed a few days later. The home is in the same neighborhood where Williford and his ex-wife Jessica Foote lived.

On the night she was attacked, Taft and her sister were house-sitting while Taft recovered from a surgery. Her sister found her bloodied body. According to testimony from the medical examiner, the state school board member had been sexually assaulted and was killed by a blow to the head.

The first witness for the defense Wednesday was psychiatrist Philip Hillsman who spoke of his treatment of Williford for mental issues and alcohol addiction.

Williford's mother Pam also testified of a long history of mental health problems within the family. She also said Jason showed problems from an early age. In addition to learning issues such as ADD, she said he had anger problems and had a hard time getting along with other children.

Williford's mother also testified that as he got older, he began to see evidence of sexual disorders which she described in detail for the jury. She also said she saw evidence of drug and alcohol use.

Prosecution rests

Prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday with the testimony of Raleigh police detective Zeke Morse and then allowed jurors to review the physical evidence - including documents and photos - they've presented.

In their cross-examination of Morse, the defense tried to reinforce their argument that Taft's murder was not premeditated. Defense attorney Diane Savage asked Morse if he found any evidence Williford brought gloves or condoms to the Cartier Lane house that might have shown he was trying to cover his tracks. Morse said he did not.

Ex-wife testifies

On Tuesday, Williford's ex-wife was a main witness for the prosecution. Foote told jurors Williford left their home on the night that prosecutors believe Kathy Taft was murdered.

She said they had a fight because Williford was drunk and making too much noise with a friend when she had to get up in the morning to go to work. At the height of the argument, he walked out.

"He did not return for a long time," said Foote.

Foote said when Williford finally returned, it was around 5 a.m., and he was wearing nothing but boxer shorts and climbed into bed beside her.

"He rolled over and appeared to go to sleep," said Foote.

Foote said she tried to renew the argument, but he wouldn't respond, and she was "furious."

Foote also recounted an incident that she said happened five days before Taft was attacked in which she claimed Williford attempted to rape her. She said he pushed her down on their bed and pinned her arms behind her.

"I just kept screaming 'Get off me,'" said Foote.

Foote said she kept struggling and eventually Williford left. She said she did not report the incident to police.

Foote told jurors she first met Williford in 2006 when she was dating his roommate. She said the men were in a band together where Williford played bass and did vocals. They were married in November 2009. Foote said since her divorce, she's now working as a performance artist in Wilmington.

Taft served on the State School Board for 15 years. She also ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in 2008. Prior to that, she served on the Pitt County Board of Education.

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wake county, homicide, kathy taft, local/state
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