Georgia schedules its first execution of the year

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Georgia schedules its first execution of the year

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The Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson is where William Sallie is scheduled to be executed. (Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com)

Convicted murderer J.W. Ledford has been scheduled to the first person Georgia has put to death since early December, when the state put its ninth man to death and ended a record year for executions.

A Murray County judge signed an execution warrant for the 45-year-old man on Wednesday afternoon and within a few hours the Department of Corrections set his lethal injection for 7 p.m. May 16 for the 1992 murder of his elderly neighbor.

Attention this year has been focused on Arkansas which had scheduled eight executions in 11 days, pressured because its lethal injection drugs would expire at the end of April. One man was put to death April 20. Two more were executed on Monday. A fourth is scheduled to die on Thursday. The other four won reprieves. 

It was Georgia last year led the nation when it executed nine men in 11 months.

Like the others, Ledford’s execution is to 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.

J.W. Ledford is scheduled for execution in May. Photo: Georgia Department of Corrections

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.

Ledford confessed.

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.

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