Ex-wife testifies in Williford case

Jessica Foote
May 22, 2012 1:33:36 PM PDT
Jason Williford's ex-wife testified Tuesday that he left their home on the night that prosecutors believe Kathy Taft was murdered.

Jessica Foote 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."

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

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 Foote lived.

Taft and her sister were housesitting 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.

During opening statements, lawyer Ernest "Buddy" Conner said his client was mentally ill and that a defense physiatrist diagnosed Williford with alcohol and marijuana addictions, plus mood and sexual disorders.

Conner told jurors that his client's diminished mental capacity means that he is not guilty of a premeditated first-degree murder.

On the witness stand Tuesday, 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.

Juror dismissed

Also Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner dismissed a woman from the jury - one day after delaying testimony because she didn't show up for court.

Gessner said the woman did not appear for a second straight day Tuesday and she had not given a satisfactory reason for not appearing.

The trial will proceed with just 13 jurors - 12 and one alternate. The case began with only three alternates - one fewer than most criminal cases. Another juror was dismissed earlier because of a family member's medical condition.

In comments from the bench Monday, Gessner expressed concern about the behavior of the woman.

"I have grave concerns that this issue will [not] repeat itself and to be perfectly honest with you, I have watched and some jurors are more attentive than others and I'll just leave it at that," he said.

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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