Parole Board denies clemency; courts left to decide on Tuesday’s execution

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Parole Board denies clemency; courts left to decide on Tuesday’s execution

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The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. (Ben Gray/Staff)

Having heard from both sides, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied J.W. “Boy” Ledford’s plea to stop his scheduled execution.

The board reached its decision just a little more than 24 hours before the planned time of his death, 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Only the courts stand in the way of Ledford’s lethal injection.

The five-member board spent 2 ½ hours this morning with advocates for condemned killer J.W. “Boy” Ledford, 45. Then they spent another 2 ½ hours with the son, daughter and granddaughter of 73-year-old Dr. Harry Johnston, who was murdered and almost decapitated 25 years ago.

The board, as is its practice, did not five its reason for denying Ledford’s clemency petition. 

Ledford’s mother, his six sisters, his son, other family members and his lawyers spent about 2½ hours Monday with the five-person board while others on his legal team continued to push his case through the federal courts.

Bert Poston, the district attorney for Murray County, said Johnston’s family told the board of their pain.

Georgia Death Row Inmate Seeks Execution By Firing Squad

“It was emotional for everybody” Poston said. “They related what it was like then and what it’s like to wait 25 years.”

He said Johnston’s granddaughter, born after his murder, talked about how her “Nanna” had waited to see the sentence carried out against the man who murderkilled her husband.

Antoinette Johnston died in February. “It was three months too late,” Poston said.

If he is executed, Ledford will be the first person Georgia has put to death this year. In 2016, Georgia executed nine men, more than any other state and more than any year here more than 40 years.

In their clemency petition, Ledford’s lawyers write that he deserves mercy because he regrets killing Johnston, because he is intellectually disabled and because at the time he was intoxicated and under the influence of drugs, addictions he had suffered since he was a child.

Ledford’s appeals to the courts also complain that he is at risk of suffering a horrific death because the lethal injection drug Georgia uses may not work as it should and the pain he experiences would violate his constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

They write that Ledford’s brain chemistry has been altered by taking a medication for years to address a chronic nerve problem. The lawyers say that drug will reduce the efficacy of pentobarbital, the drug Georgia uses in its lethal injections.

Ledford’s lawyers wrote that death by firing squad would more likely ensure a painless death, while lethal injection could mean he will not be unconscious enough by the time his lungs begin to shut down. Georgia law only allows executions by lethal injections.

The U.S. District Court on Friday rejected that argument, so he has taken his appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week, the federal appeals court in Atlanta turned down an Alabama Death Row inmate’s request to be allowed to die either by electrocution or firing squad instead of lethal injection.

Ledford was 20 years old when he murdered Johnston on Jan. 31, 1992.

According to court records, Ledford said the older man was giving him a ride into town when Johnston accused him of stealing from him and turned around to return to his Murray County home.

Johnston’s wife said she saw her husband drive off in his truck with someone she couldn’t identify in the passenger seat. A short time later, Ledford came to the door asking to see the doctor. He returned 10 minutes later to ask her to tell her husband to come to his house that evening. Then another 10 minutes after his second visit, Ledford returned with a knife.

He tied up the woman and left with cash, a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns he found in the house. Antoinette told police she saw Ledford drive away in her husband’s truck. He was arrested a short time later, after he had pawned Johnston’s rifle and shotgun.

The next day Ledford confessed but said he killed Johnston in self-defense because he pulled a knife on him.

Johnston was stabbed repeatedly. One wound was so deep he was almost decapitated. His body was found under some limbs next to the garage near his house.

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