Doctors describe Kathy Taft's final days


During the second day of Jason Williford's murder trial, a group of physicians took the stand and described how Taft's skull had been crushed and fragments were pushed into her brain days before she died.

Williford has pleaded not guilty in the 62 year old's killing at a home in Raleigh. 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. She died at WakeMed a few days later.

The former member of the State Board of Education and her sister were housesitting at the Raleigh home while Taft recovered from a cosmetic surgery.

Her sister found her bloodied body and lab results revealed the state school board member had been sexually assaulted and had a deep cut on the back of her head.

Early on the morning after the attack, Taft's plastic surgeon testified Thursday that everyone first thought was that her surgery the day before had gone wrong.

Dr. Ronald Riefkohl said he could see Taft's skull when he removed blood-soaked bandages from her plastic surgery.

"As I removed the bandage, I immediately found this huge defect in the left side of her scalp and I could see the bone edges," he said.

Riefkohl told jurors he knew that injury had nothing to do with the surgery he had done. A WakeMed doctor then asked if Riefkohl had used a catheter during Taft's surgery, which he did not.

"He said, 'Well, why does she have all this bruising and bleeding from her vaginal area,'" Riefkohl said. "So I, I just knew ... something was bizarre."

Taft underwent emergency brain surgery, but the doctor at the hospital that day told the court Thursday that he did not believe Taft would survive following the emergency procedure due to the severity of her injuries. The former member of the State Board of Education passed away three days later.

The medical examer who conducted Taft's autopsy said he determined that the severe blows to her head lead to her death.

Semen left at the scene was eventually matched to Williford who initially pleaded not guilty to the murder and rape.

Williford's lawyers are not disputing that he attacked Taft, but they are arguing he had mental problems and is not guilty of premeditated first-degree murder. Prosecutors will have to convince jurors otherwise if they want to send him to death row.

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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