Jury begins deliberating Williford sentence

June 5, 2012 9:00:00 PM PDT
Jurors who found Jason Williford guilty of first-degree murder in the death of N.C. State Board of Education member Kathy Taft, could decide whether he gets life behind bars or the death penalty as soon as Thursday.

The jury believed Williford attacked Taft inside a home on Raleigh's Cartier Lane sometime between the late night hours of March 5 or the early morning hours of March 6, 2010. She died at WakeMed a few days later.

They also found him guilty Friday of first-degree rape and breaking and entering.

On the night Taft was attacked, she and her sister were house-sitting while Taft recovered from plastic surgery. According to testimony from the medical examiner, Taft had been sexually assaulted.

Williford admitted he repeatedly beat Taft in the head with a rock, but prosecutors told jurors Wednesday morning that that alone did not make him eligible for for execution. It was what he did next, they said, that should send him to death row, instead of allowing him to have a sentence of life in prison.

"If we want to know which one of the two sentences, we have to say something needs to make it worse," prosecutor David Saacks said. "What makes it worse? ... It's the rape that makes it worse. It is violence on top of violence."

Williford broke down in tears as prosecutors continued to convince jurors for over an hour that he should be executed.

"We don't know if the first blow was the one that knocked her unconscious.We don't know. It could have been the second, could have been the third, could have been more than that. We don't know. But what we do know and what you do know is that she woke up and she gasped, because the defendant was in her bedroom in the middle of the night," prosecutor Trish Jacobs said. "The only sentence appropriate for the defendant is the sentence of death."

Williford's defense team told jurors that the death penalty was not the answer.

"Inflicting more pain on Jason's family will not bring relief to the Taft family. How could it?" assisting defense attorney Michael Driver said.

Jurors began deliberating around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and went home just before 5 p.m. They will return Thursday morning to continue deliberations.

The judge made it clear that jurors must follow the law to make their life or death decision. The decision could take time because the defense alone gave jurors 38 mitigating factors to consider.

The prosecution presented one aggravating factor -- that Williford raped Taft after beating her in the head. They referred to the sole factor as a brick which outweighs the defense's 38.

Testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial ended Tuesday after Williford's aunt took the stand and told jurors her two sons, who more than 10 years younger than 32-year-old Williford, haven't had many opportunities to spend time with him and if he is sentenced to death that may never happen.

It's been five years since a Wake County jury has handed down a death sentence.

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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