J.W. Ledford Jr. And Dr. Harry Johnston

Posted in Library of Congress, The Death Penalty by chamblee54 on May 15, 2017

J.W. Ledford Jr. GDC 0000727017, is scheduled to be executed May 16, 2017. Mr. Ledford was convicted of the murder of Dr. Harry Johnston on January 31, 1992, in Murray County, Georgia. Dr. Johston was a long time neighbor of Mr. Ledford. According to Mattie Ledford, the mother of Mr. Ledford, “…Dr. Johnston was a nice man who would often provide her with free medical services. Dr. Johnston performed the Caesarean section that delivered Ledford when he was an infant. ”
There is little doubt that Mr. Ledford is guilty. Mr. Ledford has requested a firing squad for his execution, instead of lethal injection. This is the short version of the story. If you want more details, continue to read.
THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT issued opinion No. 14-15650 on March 21, 2016. This opinion will be the primary source of information for this case. If another source is used, a link will be provided. Here is the story of the murder:
“On January 31, 1992, at some time during mid-afternoon, Antoinette Johnston saw her husband, Dr. Harry Johnston, Jr., a “feeble” 73-year-old physician, drive away in his truck with an unidentified person in the passenger seat. About 15 or 20 minutes after the truck left, Ledford appeared at Mrs. Johnston’s front door, introduced himself, and asked if Dr. Johnston was home. Mrs. Johnston replied that Dr. Johnston was not home, and Ledford left. About ten minutes later, Ledford returned to the Johnston residence and asked Mrs. Johnston to tell Dr. Johnston to come to his house later that night. Mrs. Johnston said she would relay the message, and Ledford left.
Approximately ten minutes later, Ledford appeared at Mrs. Johnston’s front door again, but this time he brandished a knife belonging to Dr. Johnston and forced his way into the residence. Ledford put the knife to Mrs. Johnston’s throat, told her that he would kill her, and demanded that she give him all of her money and guns. Mrs. Johnston retreated to the bedroom, got her wallet, and gave Ledford what money she had. Ledford then saw a pistol on the bedside table, which belonged to Mrs. Johnston, and took it.
Next, Ledford grabbed Mrs. Johnston’s arm and forced her to walk to the kitchen and through the hallway, where Ledford spotted a rifle, a shotgun, and a second pistol, all belonging to the Johnstons, which he also took. Ledford forced Mrs. Johnston into the bedroom, told her to lie on the bed, threatened to kill her, and tied her hands together with rope. Ledford told Mrs. Johnston that he was doing this “for drugs.” Finally, Ledford cut the telephone cord in the bedroom, told Mrs. Johnston not to move for ten minutes, gathered the money and guns, and left out the front door.
After Ledford left, Mrs. Johnston ran to the front door, locked it, and went to the kitchen where she got a knife and attempted to cut her bindings loose. She then went back to the front living room, looked outside, and saw Ledford backing out of the driveway in Dr. Johnston’s truck. Dr. Johnston was not in the truck with Ledford, and Mrs. Johnston was worried about his safety. At approximately 3:45 PM, Mrs. Johnston called the police to report the robbery, and to express worry that Ledford had harmed her husband.
After the robbery, Ledford went to a pawn shop and pawned the rifle that he stole from the Johnston residence. He then went to a different pawn shop and pawned the shotgun that he stole from the Johnston residence. Ledford then drove Dr. Johnston’s truck to a convenience store, bought a pack of cigarettes, and left, heading southbound on the 411 highway. At approximately 4:15 PM, law enforcement officers pulled Ledford over on the side of the 411 highway and arrested him. They seized two handguns from the front seat of the truck, a buck knife and another small knife from the passenger’s side floorboard, and $245 from Ledford’s pants pocket.
At approximately 6:00 PM, detectives arrived at the Johnston residence. Dr. Johnston’s body was discovered near the garage of the residence, partially hidden under some tree limbs. A pool of blood was found in the garage, with a trail of blood leading to Dr. Johnston’s body. Buckled to Dr. Johnston’s belt was a sheath that would have held the buck knife recovered from the truck during Ledford’s arrest.
While in custody, law enforcement officers advised Ledford of his Miranda rights in writing. Ledford then voluntarily provided a legible and coherent hand-written statement where he confessed to stabbing Dr. Johnston. In his written confession, Ledford stated that he went to Dr. Johnston’s house at 2:00 PM to ask for a ride to the grocery store, which Dr. Johnston agreed to provide. On their way, Dr. Johnston accused Ledford of stealing and then drove the truck back to his house. According to Ledford, Dr. Johnston got out of the truck, brought Ledford to the side of his garage, and started to “smack” Ledford with his hand, causing Ledford to fall to the ground.
Ledford stated that Dr. Johnston then pulled a knife from the sheath in his belt and cut Ledford’s hand. In response, Ledford pulled out his own knife and “stuck” Dr. Johnston in the neck. Ledford got back on his feet and pulled the knife from Dr. Johnston’s neck, which “went over and cut the shit out of him.” Ledford dragged the body away and covered it up.
Next, Ledford stated that he entered the Johnston residence with a knife, tied up Mrs. Johnston, and stole a shotgun, a rifle, two pistols, and some money. He left the Johnston residence in Dr. Johnston’s truck and, at some point, threw his pocket knife out of the window onto the side of the road. Ledford subsequently took law enforcement officers to the site where he disposed of the knife, which the officers recovered.”
“… On June 10, 1992, Dr. Samuel Perri, a licensed psychologist, performed an initial psychological evaluation of Ledford at the county jail, … On the Weschsler Adult Intelligence Scale–Revised (“WAIS-R”), Ledford scored a 77, which placed him in the “upper part of the borderline range” for mental retardation. Dr. Perri opined that Ledford’s psychological profile suggested that “substance abuse [was] likely” for Ledford. … Ledford informed Dr. Perri that on the day of Dr. Johnston’s murder, he drank a six-pack of 16-ounce beers, smoked ten joints, and maybe took some pills, though he was not sure, and was generally “messed up.” … Dr. Perri noted that Ledford had a long history of substance abuse problems, including regular consumption of marijuana, whisky, and beer, and experimental consumption of acid, cocaine, and Quaaludes. Dr. Perri characterized Ledford’s substance abuse as his “most significant finding,” which could be considered mitigating evidence at the penalty phase, if Ledford were found guilty. ”
“…After determining that self-defense was not a viable option, (Attorney Sam) Little decided that Ledford’s primary defense would be that he involuntarily developed alcoholism when he was eight years old and, therefore, was involuntarily intoxicated on the day he killed Dr. Johnston. Little knew that voluntary intoxication was not a defense to murder. Thus, it was critical to demonstrate that, because of his childhood, Ledford was involuntarily intoxicated on the day of Dr. Johnston’s murder”
“…On this prejudice prong, we also consider that the state presented overwhelming evidence of Ledford’s factual guilt at trial, including his written confession, his assistance in recovering the murder weapon, Mrs. Johnston’s account of seeing him in her husband’s truck, her account of the robbery and being tied up by him, the pawn shop employees’ testimony as to the guns, and the forensic serologist’s testimony. Despite consuming a large amount of drugs and alcohol, Ledford was able to inflict wounds that required a significant amount of force, hide Dr. Johnston’s body (albeit crudely), force his way into the Johnston residence, cut the phone line, tie up Mrs. Johnston, drive away, and discard the murder weapon. All of this is ample evidence demonstrating that, despite his consumption of drugs and alcohol, Ledford maintained some cognitive faculties during and after Dr. Johnston’s murder.”
According to the affidavits, Ledford had a rough childhood. He grew up in a poor, rural, mountain community in Georgia with six sisters and little supervision. Ledford’s father abused drugs and alcohol, was frequently absent, and when present, sold drugs out of the family home. Ledford’s mother was typically away at work, leaving Ledford either unsupervised or with his father. Ledford’s home was very unstable, and he would frequently stay with neighbors or other family members.
Ledford’s father would occasionally enter into a drunken rage, chase the children around with a gun, and threaten to kill them. On one occasion, Ledford’s father held a gun to his head and threatened to kill himself in front of Ledford. On another occasion, he chased Ledford’s mother down the street and shot at her. He frequently beat the children, leaving bruises and welts.
While Ledford was a sweet, loving, and well-behaved child, he had no supervision. As a result, he began abusing drugs and alcohol at a very young age. Ledford’s sister recalled that he vomited from drinking when he was eight years old. Ledford’s father gave him drugs during his childhood. Eventually, Ledford would use any drug made available to him, including acid, crack, and cocaine, and was heavily into drugs as a teenager. On one occasion, Ledford accidentally shot off his finger while high. Despite his addictions, Ledford desperately wanted to get sober. At one point, Ledford told his mother that he would kill himself if he did not get help.
Ledford had several positive relationships with his neighbors and family members. He would frequently help neighbors with their chores, babysit for neighbors, commit acts of chivalry for his sisters, and was generally happiest when helping others. He expressed an interest in joining the Peace Corps. In 1989,Ledford’s close friend was murdered, which he took “very hard.”
Ledford was not very smart and had trouble with school. He had trouble reading, failed the first grade, and was twice held back a grade. During middle school, an older woman frequently signed him out of class so that they could drink together. Ledford dropped out when he was 16, during his freshman year of high school. … In the months leading up to Dr. Johnston’s death, Ledford began acting very strangely. He was heavily abusing drugs and became increasingly irrational and paranoid. Family members were shocked that Ledford killed Dr. Johnston. …”
“… On July 31, 1997, Dr. Susan Fiester, a psychiatrist, examined Ledford for six hours. At the outset of her affidavit, Dr. Fiester noted the following with respect to Ledford’s background:(1) Ledford suffered “significant birth trauma,” having been delivered by Caesarean section and having almost died at birth; (2) Ledford suffered more than 15 episodes of head trauma throughout his life, many of which involved significant trauma and loss of consciousness; (3) many of Ledford’s family members suffered from substance abuse problems and psychiatric illness; (4) Ledford himself had substance abuse problems and suffered “severe consequences” from his drug use, including job loss; and (5) in 1992, Ledford typically ingested eight to ten milligrams of Xanax per day, but had only taken two milligrams on the day of the murder. Dr. Fiester concluded that, due to Ledford’s acute intoxication and Xanax withdrawal, it was “highly unlikely, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that [he] formed an intent to kill his victim.”
” … Dr. Zimmerman identified several potential causes of Ledford’s intellectual disability. He opined that (1) Ledford’s abuse of drugs and alcohol significantly retarded his developmental functions; (2) organic brain damage caused by two head injuries resulting in unconsciousness may have contributed to the development of Ledford’s intellectual disability; (3) Ledford’s intellectual disability may be congenital, as records indicated that Ledford’s mother had tested at the borderline or mild range of intellectual disability; and (4) Ledford’s unsupervised upbringing in a low socio-economic class may have contributed to his deficient intellectual development.”
” … At the penalty phase, Ledford’s counsel resubmitted the evidence presented at the guilt phase and called Mattie Ledford, his mother, to testify…. At the penalty phase, trial counsel Little had several other witnesses lined up to testify on Ledford’s behalf. But Ledford’s mother testified first and her testimony made nine to eleven jurors cry, along with the rest of the courtroom. Little found Mrs. Ledford’s testimony so emotionally compelling that no other witnesses were needed to present mitigating evidence.” A footnote on page 17: “On cross-examination, Mrs. Ledford testified that Dr. Johnston was a nice man who would often provide her with free medical services. Dr. Johnston performed the Caesarean section that delivered Ledford when he was an infant.”
Despite Mrs. Ledford’s testimony, and the claim on involuntary intoxication, Mr. Ledford was sentenced to death. The traditional claims of ineffective counsel were made. During the twenty five years between the death of Dr. Johnston, and the planned execution of Mr. Ledford, the death sentence was sustained by the courts.
A unique wrinkle in this case is a request for a firing squad. JW Ledford Jr lawyers want firing squad, not injection “Ledford, 45, suffers from chronic nerve pain that has been treated with increasing doses of the prescription drug gabapentin for more than a decade, his lawyers said in a federal case filed on Thursday. They cited experts who said long-term exposure to gabapentin alters brain chemistry, making pentobarbital unreliable to render him unconscious and devoid of sensation or feeling. “Accordingly, there is a substantial risk that Mr Ledford will be aware and in agony as the pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart, and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva,” the legal case said. That would violate the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, Ledford’s lawyers argued.”
Condemned inmate wants steak, chicken, pork chop for last meal “The Department of Corrections on Thursday released Ledford’s requested menu: filet mignon wrapped in bacon with pepper Jack cheese, large French fries, 10 chicken tenders with sauce, fried pork chop, bloomin’ onion, pecan pie with vanilla ice cream, sherbert and Sprite.”
Pictures today are from The Library of Congress. Esther Bubley took the pictures in January, 1943. “Washington, D.C. A boardinghouse rule forbids men guest to come into girls’ rooms and vice versa” Pictures are from the Office of War Information.
UPDATE JW Ledford died at 1:17am, May 17, 2017. Lethal Injection was used.

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