Georgia schedules its first execution of the year
By Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
A Murray County judge on Wednesday signed a warrant setting a May execution of J.W. Ledford for the 1992 murder of his elderly neighbor. If Ledford, 45, is put to death, he will be Georgia's first lethal injection in 2017, coming off a record year during which the state executed nine men in 11 months.
According to the warrant, Ledford's execution is to be scheduled for between noon May 16 and noon on May 23. Usually, the Department of Corrections schedules executions for 7 p.m. on the first day of the window, which will be May 16. It will be carried out at the death chamber at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson, about 50 miles south of Atlanta.
William Sallie was the last person Georgia put to death. He was executed Dec. 6 for a 1990 murder.
Ledford was 20 years old, but had been drinking and using drugs half his life when he murdered his "rather feeble" 73-year-old neighbor, Dr. Harry Johnston on Jan. 31, 1992.
According to testimony at the death penalty trial in Murray County, Ga., Antoinette Johnston had just seen her husband drive away in his pickup with someone in the passenger seat when Ledford knocked on the door and asked to speak with the physician.
Ledford left when she told him her husband wasn't home, but he returned 15 to 20 minutes later, introducing himself and asking again to see Johnston. Ledford left only to return a third time about 10 minutes later to ask Antoinette to tell her husband to come to his house that evening.
The fourth time Ledford came to the Johnston house he had a knife; one that belonged to the elderly man. Ledford told Antoinette Johnston he need money for drugs, and if he didn't get it he would kill her. Ledford tied up the woman and left the house with two handguns, a rifle and a shotgun that belonged to the family.
Antoinette Johnston freed herself in time to see Ledford drive off in her husband's truck.
Within the next 30 minutes, Ledford sold the rifle and shotgun at two different pawnshops, stopped to buy cigarettes and was stopped on Highway 441 and arrested.
He told investigators Johnston was giving him a ride to the grocery store when the older man accused him of stealing and turned around the truck and headed back to his house.
On the side of the Johnston garage, Ledford said, Johnston knocked him to the ground and then pulled a knife from a sheath in his belt. Ledford said he pulled his own knife and repeatedly stabbed Johnson.
Ledford dragged the body a short distance away and covered it with tree limbs.www.ajc.com