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State, defense call on witnesses in Williford sentencing

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RALEIGH – The sentencing hearing started Monday at Wake County Superior Courthouse to determine whether the man convicted for killing state board of education member Kathy Taft should be put to death for the crime or spend his life behind bars.

Last week, the jury found 32-year-old Jason Williford guilty of first-degree murder, rape and breaking and entering. During the first part of the hearing, the jury began hearing from witnesses, who described Williford's character.

Williford was stoic when the judge read the guilty verdict last week, but when his dad took the stand during his sentencing hearing, Williford got choked up.

He could not hold back the tears as his father, Michael Keith Williford, described falling apart when his son was arrested in 2010. Michael showed jurors photos of Williford during happier times.

"I think you saw it in those pictures. He is a good kid inside," he described.

The words from Williford's father and other people linked to the defendant will help the jury decide Williford's sentence.

In March 2010, Williford broke into Taft's boyfriend's Raleigh home, used a rock to beat her several times in the head and raped her. Taft died from her injuries three days later.

The state's one and only witness, Williford's ex girlfriend Mary Jo James, told the jury that Williford has a history of violence toward women.

"He threw me into the door and pulled me down to the floor by my hair, kicked me a few times and then threw some flowers on me and spit on me," James said, describing Williford's reaction when she confronted him about using an escort service.

The defendant's father told jurors his son regrets his past and now leads Bible studies at prison.

"I know he's remorseful," he said.

Taft's daughter Jessica Gorall finds it ironic that Williford is now expressing remorse.

"We saw so many gruesome horrible things and he showed not one emotion, all he he did was look down and he was emotionless," said Gorall, who is relieved Williford will never be able to hurt anyone else and will support the jury's final decision. "The jury will get to make that decision. And I'm ok with that, whatever decision they come out with, I am."

While Williford's arrest and conviction has caused the family pain, Williford's father said his execution would be even worse.

"I don't know if I could bare that, he's my son," he cried.

All 12 jurors must agree on the death penalty or Williford will spend life in prison with out parole.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, there are 156 inmates currently on death row.

The last execution by lethal injection was in August 2006.

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