Suspect pleads not guilty in Kathy Taft's death

Jason Williford
February 19, 2012 9:00:00 PM PST
The man accused in the death of state school board member Kathy Taft has pleaded not guilty.

Jason Williford entered the plea during a hearing Tuesday in a Wake County courtroom. Williford is charged in the March 2010 rape and death of Taft at a home in Raleigh.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled against the defense's motion to suppress DNA evidence in the case, which included a cigarette butt. He also denied a series of motions including a motion to suppress State Bureau of Investigation testing and a motion to make the trial non-capital.

At a pre-trial hearing Monday, lawyers for the 32-year-old accused killer pleaded with the judge to delay the trial and toss out the DNA evidence that investigators suggested tied Williford to the crime scene - including DNA from Williford's cigarette butt that investigators found on the street.

Williford's attorney said that violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Tuesday, Williford's attorney Diane Savage argued against the testing of the evidence by the SBI lab.

"I think it's fair to say the SBI remains under a cloud," she said referring to the recent controversy involving the review of the SBI crime lab after the discovery of mishandled blood evidence.

At one point Judge Gessner asked if Savage was referring to blood or blood spatters.

She replied that the SBI couldn't be trusted with saliva and semen either - the two kinds of evidence apparently involved in the case.

"Until there's an external audit, how can anything be reliable," she said.

Savage added the court "can't trust an agency [SBI] with a legacy of incompetence."

She noted that the prosecution sent it's evidence to LabCorp (a private testing agency) for duplicate testing. She said it was apparent that the prosecution didn't trust the SBI lab.

Savage also said she wanted the case declared "non-capital at the least" and questioned a Raleigh Police Department officer's decision to put a glove he used to pick up a cigarette butt into the evidence bag with the butt. She argued that it could have caused "contamination" and was "absurd."

Police have said 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.

The former member of the State Board of Education and her sister were housesitting at the Raleigh home while Taft recovered from a surgery.

Her sister found her bloodied body and lab results revealed the state school board member had been sexually assaulted and had a deep cut on the back of her head.

Police said Williford, a Raleigh musician, lived in an apartment around the corner from the home where Taft was staying when she was attacked.

Williford's trial was scheduled for March 5 -- two years to the day of Taft's attack -- but on Tuesday Judge Gessner moved the start date to April 9.

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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