Williford trial delayed due to juror conflict


Williford has pleaded not guilty to the brutal 2010 rape and murder of N.C. State Board of Education member Kathy Taft. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Visibly concerned, Judge Gessner told attorneys on both sides that allegedly a female juror could not find someone to watch her daughter, so she was unable to attend Monday's proceedings.

"I have grave concerns that this issue will [not] repeat itself and to be perfectly honest with you, I have watched and some jurors are more attentive than others and I'll just leave it at that," he said.

Gessner then asked Williford's defense attorneys how they would like to handle the situation.

Lead defense attorney Ernest Conner said he felting bringing the juror in Monday could possibly "make her angry," which, he said, could be an issue later. He suggested to delay the trial for a day to have the juror get her affairs in order.

"I don't think that's a proper reason not to be here as a juror, but I think ... it potentially just creates an issue for the appellate courts at some point and time that I don't think needs to be in the case at all," Conner said.

Judge Gessner replied that he was concerned about further delays in the future. He also said the juror told officials she left a message about her dilemma with the appropriate personnel, but the judge said there was apparently no message -- something that also concerned him.

"I'm concerned that she has represented that she has called upstairs and it does not appear that that is accurate," he said.

Prosecutor David Saacks said he did not object to delaying the trial for a day. Adding he felt it was the "safest course to delay," because he worried about losing an alternate juror so early on in the trial.

After attorneys and the judge discussed the matter during a bench conference in the judges' chambers, Judge Gessner returned to the courtroom to announce that the trial would be delayed for the day.

He briefed the present jurors and dismissed them until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The trial started last week with just 12 jury members and two alternates. There are seven women and five men in the main panel and the two alternates are male.

Police have said Williford attacked Taft inside a Raleigh home 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 former member of the State Board of Education and her sister were housesitting while Taft recovered from a 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.

During opening statements, Conner said his client was mentally ill and that a defense physiatrist diagnosed Williford with alcohol and marijuana addictions, plus mood and sexual disorders.

Conner told jurors that his client's diminished mental capacity means that he is not guilty of a premeditated first-degree murder.

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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