Taft murder suspect in court Monday

Jason Williford

April 19, 2010 3:40:55 PM PDT
The man charged with the rape and murder of State School Board Member Kathy Taft made his first court appearance Monday.

Jason Williford was just in court for a few minutes and then was sent back to detention.

Police say 30-year-old Williford attacked 62-year-old Taft inside a home on Cartier Lane in the late night hours of March 5 or the early morning hours of March 6. She died at WakeMed a few days later.

Williford is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape. Sources tell ABC11 he was linked to the killing through DNA evidence.

A judge told him Monday that the murder charge could bring life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection. Williford also faces another life sentence from the rape charge.

Officers arrested him at a Jordan Lake campground Friday evening.

In a news conference Saturday, police said Williford has been uncooperative throughout the investigation and had only been a suspect a few days before his arrest.

He is a Raleigh musician who lived in an apartment around the corner from the home where Taft was staying when she was attacked.

For more than a month, the case stumped Raleigh police. With few leads, police focused on a break-in that happened near the home where Taft was attacked and collected DNA from men in the neighborhood. Police say Williford refused to provide a sample.

"We, right now, believe that this case was a random act of violence," Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan said. "We have no other information at this time that would lead us in a different direction."

Williford's criminal history includes convictions from breaking into homes.

The record from 2001 shows he broke into a neighbor's home almost next door to where he used to live. A 58-year-old woman and granddaughter were inside, but unharmed.

"That's a repeat offender type thing," Williford's neighbor Julie Elkin said. "The similarities between that crime and this one are creepy."

Elkin says her roommate was asked by a stranger (an undercover cop) who was hanging around if there were doors in the back of Williford's building.

Authorities say there are and it offered Williford direct access to the creek and the sewer easement that leads directly the back of the house on Cartier Drive where Taft was murdered.

Taft's children were in court Monday to see Williford in person.

Paige Fuqua - Taft's daughter - said "He just looked like the average guy."

Williford's parents sat on the second row of the small courtroom, along with his wife, Jessica Foote, who listened intently and at times kissed a man's wedding ring she wore on a necklace.

"When she introduced herself to me she said, 'I'm Jessica, my husband and I are moving in here,'" Elkin said.

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

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