RALEIGH — A man whose home was about two-tenths of a mile from where state Board of Education member Kathy Taft was brutally attacked last month has been accused of sexually assaulting and murdering her.
Jason Keith Williford, 30, of 2812 Wayland Drive, Apt. D, was arrested this afternoon and charged with rape and murder in connection with Tafts death, according to Raleigh police chief Harry Dolan.
The arrest came 41 days after Taft was found unresponsive, bloodied and beaten in the home of a friend on Cartier Drive, around the corner from the suspects apartment.
Taft, 62, of Greenville, died three days later at WakeMed.
It was unclear on what led investigators to Williford. Dolan would not provide details of the investigation today.
By early evening, police had wrapped yellow crime scene tape around the four-unit apartment building where Williford lived. Two uniformed officers stood guard. Detectives from the police departments major crimes division were ready to search the home.
Neighbors milled around, trying to learn more. They were hopeful that the fear and uncertainty that had been all too common in their neighborhood since the March 6 attack would subside soon.
Its been the most upsetting thing, said neighbor Janet Cozart. It feels like we can walk and run on the roads again.
A recording of a 911 call and search warrants released last week revealed that investigators thought Taft had been sexually assaulted at 2710 Cartier Drive, the home of John M. Geil, a Raleigh lawyer with whom Taft had a relationship.
Since the attack, investigators have collected DNA samples from men in the neighborhood around the crime scene.
Some of the male neighbors voluntarily allowed investigators to collect DNA. Taft family members said homicide detectives told them others refused.
It was unclear tonight whether investigators had collected DNA from Williford.
Top brass in the Raleigh police department lauded the departments detectives, as well as the City-County Bureau of Investigation and the State Bureau of Investigation for their tireless work on the case.
Maj. Rick Grayson, head of the detective division, issued a statement thanking people who live in the neighborhood and Tafts family for their assistance and confidence.
The investigation will continue, according to Graysons statement. Police plan to say more about the arrest Saturday afternoon.
State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson said the arrest brings some closure for Taft's friends and family. She said she's trusting that the police may have found the right suspect in the crime.
This is the beginning of the end of finding some resolution, said Atkinson, who knew Taft for 15 years.
Tom Taft, Kathy Tafts former husband, was in Cairo, Egypt, this evening when he got a call from a Raleigh homicide detective who had been keeping the family posted on the investigation.
His words were: Weve got him, Taft said. Its so hard to describe how you feel when you hear something like that. Maybe bittersweet is the nearest thing you can say. Youre happy, but you feel guilty for having a positive emotion right now.
Kathy Taft is survived by four grown children.
Im so relieved for my children, Tom Taft said. Its bad enough that their mother died. Then there was the violence, the sexual assault. This gives them a tool to begin the process of healing.
The homicide detective would not share much information with Taft about what led investigators to Williford.
Taft s sister, Dina Arnold Holton, called emergency dispatchers at 9:31 a.m. March 6 to report that Taft was in bed, unresponsive and bleeding.
The day before Taft had seen a plastic surgeon and had minor surgery on her neck, Holton told the 911 dispatcher. The two women had been staying at the Cartier Drive home of Geil while he was in Florida.
Taft had been snoring heavily at 3 a.m., when Holton said she last checked on her sister, according to a 911 recording. Holton told a TV station in New Bern this week that she heard footsteps in the house before finding her sister. It was unclear what time investigators think the assault occurred.
Williford has been in trouble with the law before, amassing an arrest record that includes several burglary and drug-related charges.
He was convicted in 2001 with breaking and entering, a misdemeanor charge that brought him a suspended sentence and three years of probation.
Williford is a bassist and vocalist in the Raleigh band The Authority. According to the bands Web site, Williford also has played in the bands Mourning Wood and Traces of Morrow.
At the North Raleigh home where Williford once lived, a woman who answered the phone tonight said the family would have no comment.
Staff writers T.Keung Hui and Thomasi McDonald, and researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this article.
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