ATLANTA, GA –Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr offers the following information in the case against J.W. Ledford, Jr., who is currently scheduled to be executed on May 16, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. for the 1992 murder of Dr. Harry Buchanan Johnston, Jr.
Ledford has concluded his direct appeal proceedings and his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings. Accordingly, the Superior Court of Murray County today filed an order setting the seven-day window in which the execution of J.W. Ledford, Jr. may occur beginning at noon, May 16, 2017 and ending 7 days later at noon on May 23, 2017.
Ledford’s Crime (January 31, 1992)
The Georgia Supreme Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:
The defendant, J. W. Ledford, Jr. was convicted of the malice murder of Dr. Harry Buchanan Johnston, Jr., as well as two counts of armed robbery, one count of burglary, and one count of kidnapping Dr. Johnston's wife, Antoinette. The jury recommended that a sentence of death be imposed for the conviction of malice murder, and the trial court sentenced him to death. The trial court also sentenced the defendant to two consecutive life sentences and two twenty-year concurrent terms for the remaining offenses.
The defendant and victims were neighbors. At the time of the murder, the defendant was 20 years old and Dr. Johnston was 73. According to trial testimony, Dr. Johnston was "rather feeble." The evidence presented at trial shows that on January 31, 1992, the defendant came to the Johnston home, asking to speak to Dr. Johnston. Mrs. Johnston had previously seen her husband drive away in his truck with a passenger she was unable to identify. When she informed the defendant that Dr. Johnston was not at home, the defendant left, but returned approximately ten minutes later. This time the defendant asked Mrs. Johnston to have her husband come to his home that evening. Approximately ten minutes after the second visit, the defendant returned and forced his way into the Johnston home at knifepoint. Mrs. Johnston testified that he threatened to kill her, and demanded money and guns. Mrs. Johnston gave him the money from her purse. The defendant then pushed her throughout the house gathering up a shotgun, rifle and two pistols. He forced her on the bed and bound her wrists with a rope he had in his pocket. When Mrs. Johnston heard the door close, she managed to get up from the bed in time to see the defendant driving away in her husband's truck. Because her wrists were loosely tied together, she was able to sever the rope and telephone the sheriff's office.
The defendant was apprehended later that afternoon. Law enforcement officers subsequently discovered the body of Dr. Johnston near a small building located on the Johnston property. According to the pathologist who performed the autopsy, the victim had suffered either "one continuous or two slices to the neck" which destroyed virtually all the muscle and tissue on the left side of his neck, and nearly severed his head from his body. Additionally, the victim sustained a small knife wound in the back and a number of other knife wounds in the neck. There were no defensive wounds on the victim's hands. The pathologist testified that it took "a significant amount of force" to inflict the wounds in question. Additionally, he opined that the victim bled to death, but lived approximately eight or nine minutes after the injuries were inflicted, in "an extremely painful" condition.
The defendant and victim shared the same blood type. However, based on an enzyme analysis, a GBI forensic serologist testified that the blood found on the defendant's clothing and the knife in his possession at the time of arrest was consistent with the victim's blood and could not have come from the defendant.
The day following his arrest the defendant sent word to officers that he wished to make a statement. After receiving warnings pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694) (1966), the defendant stated that he had gone to Dr. Johnston's house to ask for a ride to the grocery store. Once in the truck, Dr. Johnston accused the defendant of stealing from him. Dr. Johnston returned to his home and told the defendant he wished to show him something on the property. Dr. Johnston then struck the defendant and unsnapped a knife pouch on his belt. The defendant drew his own knife and "stuck" the victim in the neck. The defendant stated that "[a]s I was pulling my knife back from sticking him, it went over and cut the . . . out of him." The defendant stated that he then dragged the body to the building where the victim was found and covered it up. He then went to Dr. Johnston's house, his knife still drawn, and demanded money from Mrs. Johnston. He tied her up, took money and four guns, and left in Dr. Johnston's truck. Shortly thereafter he pawned the shotgun and rifle.
Employees from two pawn shops identified the defendant as the person who pawned the guns in question on the day of the murder.
Ledford v. State, 264 Ga. 60-62 (1994)
The Trial (1992-1993)
Ledford was indicted in the Superior Court of Murray County, Georgia for malice murder, felony murder, burglary, kidnapping and armed robbery. Ledford was convicted and sentenced to death on November 14, 1992. Thereafter, Ledford filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on March 24, 1993.
The Direct Appeal (1994-1995)
The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Ledford’s convictions and death sentence on February 21, 1994. Ledford v. State, 264 Ga. 60 (1994). The United States Supreme Court denied Ledford’s request to appeal on January 9, 1995. Ledford v. Georgia, 513 U.S. 1085 (1995), rehearing denied, Ledford v. Georgia, 513 U.S. 1199 (1995).
State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (1995-2002)
Ledford filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on December 20, 1995. An evidentiary hearing was held on April 23, 1998. On July 27, 1999, the state habeas corpus court entered an order denying Ledford state habeas relief. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Ledford’s appeal on May 1, 2001. The United States Supreme Court denied Ledford’s request to appeal on February 19, 2002. Ledford v. Turpin, 534 U.S. 1138 (2002).
Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2002-2017)
Ledford filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on April 30, 2002. On March 19, 2008, following a three day hearing, the district court entered an order denying Ledford’s claim that he is intellectual disabled. On August 29, 2014, the district court denied Ledford federal habeas relief. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of relief on March 21, 2016. Ledford v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison, 818 F.3d 600 (11th Cir. 2016). The United States Supreme Court denied Ledford’s request to appeal on April 3, 2017. Ledford v. Sellers, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2262 (2017).