The State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday scheduled appointments on May 15 to hear from advocates for J.W. Ledford who want to stop his pending execution and from those who want to see his sentence carried out.
As is it’s tradition, the morning hours are set aside for Ledford’s attorneys, family members and friends to make a pitch for clemency. The prosecutor, and sometimes the lead investigators and the victim’s relatives, will meet with the five-person board in the afternoon.
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Only the courts and the Parole Board have the authority to stop his execution set for May 16. If the 45-year-old Ledford is put to death for the 1992 murder of his elderly neighbor, his will be the first lethal injection Georgia has carried out in 2017, coming of a record year when the state put nine men to death.
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, almost decapitating him.
Ledford dragged the body a short distance away and covered it with tree limbs.