Police say 30-year-old Jason Williford attacked 62-year-old 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.
Williford is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape.
Sources tell ABC11 he was linked to the killing through DNA evidence. That's backed up by newly released search warrants that show detectives obtained a DNA sample from him.
They also searched his car and home on Wayland Drive.
Warrants show they took a long list of items, including: a computer thumb drive, tax return, notebook, knife in case, AA meeting schedule, 8 DVDs, shoe polish, smoking bong, 11 tubes of paint, paperback novel, handwritten letters, 30 pairs of panties, rock bass guitar, limb pruner, walking stick, gloves, and laptop computers.
If convicted of murder, Williford could get life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection. He also faces another life sentence from the rape charge.
Williford is a Raleigh musician who lived in an apartment around the corner from the home where Taft was staying when she was attacked.
For more than a month, the case stumped Raleigh police. With few leads, police focused on a break-in that happened near the home where Taft was attacked and collected DNA from men in the neighborhood. Police say Williford refused to provide a sample.
Williford's criminal history includes convictions from breaking into homes. Records from 2001 show he broke into a neighbor's home almost next door to where he used to live. A 58-year-old woman and granddaughter were inside, but unharmed.
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.