Jury selection starts in Kathy Taft murder trial

April 18, 2012 2:15:10 PM PDT
The jury selection process began Monday in the trial of the man accused in the death of state school board member Kathy Taft.

Thirty-two-year-old Jason Williford could face the death penalty if he's convicted.

Williford has pleaded not guilty to charges that he raped and beat 62-year-old Taft in March 2010.

Willford was arrested in April 2010 after police say they found DNA evidence on a cigarette butt linking him to the crime.

His attorneys unsuccessfully pleaded with the judge to delay the trial and toss out the DNA evidence -- arguing police should have obtained a search warrant before picking up the evidence.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner ruled against the defense's motion to suppress the evidence. 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.

Lawyers for the 32-year-old accused killer 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. They argued that it could have caused "contamination" and was "absurd."

They also added that police should have had a search warrant to pick the butt up, but prosecutors have said the parking lot is considered a public place.

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. 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.

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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