Williford jury begins deliberations

Jason Williford
May 31, 2012 2:31:24 PM PDT
The jury in the Jason Williford case began deliberations just after 3 p.m. Thursday and worked until just after five before going home for the evening.

Also Thursday, the jury heard closing arguments from both the prosecution and defense. Williford's defense team told jurors that he should be convicted of the lesser charge of second-degree murder in the 2010 rape and murder of N.C. State Board of Education member Kathy Taft.

"That doesn't mean he is not responsible. He is," said attorney Diane Savage.

Williford attacked Taft inside a home on Raleigh's 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 plastic surgery. According to testimony from the medical examiner, the state school board member had been sexually assaulted. Prosecutors said Williford hit her in the head several times with a rock.

From the beginning of Williford's trial, his defense team has admitted he raped Taft, but they've argued the crime was not premeditated - a requirement required for a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty under North Carolina law. They also say he is not guilty of a first-degree burglary charge.

Williford's defense team called a series of psychiatrists and a social worker to testify about his extensive history of mental problems that range from sex addiction to drug and alcohol problems.

Witnesses have testified Williford consumed a large amount of alcohol and took drugs on the night of the attack. In her closing argument, Savage made her case against premeditation - telling jurors he had no impulse control when he was drunk.

Defense attorney Ernest "Buddy" Conner said the prosecution has not proven he planned the attack before it happened or that he intended to kill Taft.

"The state has not proven these charges. The state cannot prove these charges. Jason is mentally ill. Jason is an addict," he said.

Savage also said there was no evidence of planning - pointing out he didn't bring a weapon or gloves and instead covered his hands with his own socks.

"A planned attack, you get out of town. You wouldn't pick someone in your own neighborhood," said Savage.

Savage said Williford thought he was breaking into an empty home and just happened to come across Taft.

But in his closing argument, prosecutor David Saacks said there was clear evidence Williford went into the home to commit a rape. He said the TV was on and there was a car in the driveway.

"His intent was to look for a person," said Saacks. "What would your intent be to go up to a bedroom of a strange house?"

Saacks said even when it was obvious to Williford that the house was occupied, he passed up on a chance to leave and instead went into the bedroom where Taft was sleeping.

"He wanted to go into that bedroom. He wanted to do his sexual act," said Saacks.

Saacks said the legal definition of premeditation doesn't necessarily mean Williford planned the attack months, weeks, days, or even hours beforehand.

"All it means is that before he acted, that's what he intended to do," said Saacks.

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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