Police: Taft murder suspect uncooperative


Police arrested 30-year-old Jason Keith Williford on Friday afternoon.

Williford appeared before the magistrate around 10:30 p.m. Friday, following several hours of questioning. He is currently being held without bond, charged with the rape and murder of Taft.

On Saturday afternoon, Raleigh police held a news conference to address the arrest. They say Williford has been uncooperative throughout their investigation, and that he developed as a suspect only a few days ago.

They also say Williford is their first and only suspect in a crime they are now almost certain was random. They say old-fashioned detective work and some DNA evidence helped them in the case, and say Williford is likely not connected to a break-in near where Taft was murdered.

Authorities say the 62-year-old was sexually assaulted and beaten to death inside a home on Cartier Lane in the late night hours of March 5 or the early morning hours of March 6. The state school board member died three days later.

Williford lives on Wayland Drive, a block away from the neighborhood where Taft was found. Late Friday evening, police still had the quadplex where Williford lives surrounded.

It is unclear if he had ever met Taft, or if police believe he picked the house or her at random.

Williford had been convicted of breaking and entering twice, once in 2001 and 1998. Although both were misdemeanors, sources say the 2001 break-in may have originally been a felony involving a female victim.

ABC11 Eyewitness News has learned Jason Williford's mother, father and sister all live in Wake County.

His sister told ABC11 that the family is not yet prepared to talk about Williford.

"We just don't know what to do right now," she said.

Meanwhile, Williford's neighbors say they are relieved police arrested him, but they are unsettled he's their neighbor.

"Yeah it's a little creepy to not know who your neighbors really are," neighbor Haley MacGill said. "It's a little scary to know that he was so close and that he was from this area."

Taft's ex-husband, former state legislator Tom Taft, told ABC11 that Williford's arrest has left his family with mixed emotions.

"Everyone is relieved," Tom Taft said. "Its bittersweet news, its potential closure, but it brings the hurt back all over again."

Taft says Williford's arrest is all thanks to the hard work of the Raleigh Police Department.

"The first words out of their mouth were, we've got him, we've got him," Tom Taft said. "And when I talked to them further, there's a great deal of confidence that they think they have the right person. There's some significant evidence. It'll be interesting to see if they get a confession."

Raleigh police had been unusually quiet about the murder investigation -- refusing to publically release details about how Taft died or if they had any suspects until now.

The Raleigh Police Department will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Saturday concerning the case.

About the attack

Last week, search warrants were released that revealed police have evidence that Taft was sexually assaulted before her death, and they have DNA evidence.

Click here to read the warrants (.pdf)

Men who live near the crime scene told reporters in the last six weeks that they were asked to give DNA samples to rule them out as potential suspects.

The attack happened at the home of Raleigh Attorney John Geil. Geil was out of state at the time of the crime, and sources said early on that he was not a suspect in the assault.

Taft's sister Diana Arnold Holton found her bleeding the morning of March 6.

"I heard footsteps and I know somebody was in that house. But I didn't know that house. I'd never stayed in that house before and then I found her and that's when I called 911," she said.

Click here to listen to Holton's 911 call

Police interrogated Holton, but she says they treated her with the utmost respect.

"Even the interrogation I've been through. Whatever it could take to find out what happened to my sister," she said. "I was never treated as a suspect. Not ever."

According to search warrants, Holton thought Taft was suffering complications from a plastic surgery procedure the day before. But when she was taken to the hospital, medical staff realized she'd been assaulted and called 911.

Search warrants state that Taft had a laceration to the back of the head when she arrived at the hospital that was not related to the plastic surgery. Holton said in her 911 call that Taft's head was wrapped in gauze, so it's possible she didn't see the injury.

Taft, who lived in Greenville, 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. She was divorced from former state Senator Tom Taft, and had four children.

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