Silver Comet killer sentenced to death

Victim's husband: 'The sentence they handed down was the right sentence'

Silver Comet Trail murderer Michael Ledford was sentenced Friday to death by lethal injection for the 2006 killing of Sandy Springs cyclist Jennifer Ewing.

Paulding County Judge James Osborne set Ledford's execution date between July 1 and July 8, but it is automatically stayed because Georgia law requires an appeal of death sentences.

Minutes after the punishment was announced, Jennifer Ewing's husband, James, embraced one of the prosecutors.

"It's been a long haul since 2006. It's been tough for our family," Ewing said. "The sentence they handed down was the right sentence," he told reporters. "Michael Ledford has been held accountable for what he did."

Ewing stood with his three children, all emotional and struggling to hold back tears as their father spoke.

Ledford's mother and sister cried quietly, then they, along with Ledford's two estranged adult sons, quickly left the crowded courtroom, declining to talk to reporters.

On Monday jurors convicted Ledford of 10 felonies, including murder, kidnapping with bodily harm, aggravated battery, aggravated sodomy and aggravated assault.

Ewing had just passed the 32nd mile on a 50-mile ride on the popular Silver Comet Trail, a ride she took five times a week, when Ledford ambushed her in an isolated spot on the path in Paulding County.

Ledford dragged her 70 feet off the trail and tried to force her to perform oral sex on him. But she bit him instead, sending him into a rage.

The autopsy showed he brutally beat the 53-year-old Sandy Springs mother, pounding her with his fist at least 30 times and stomping her twice, leaving footprints on her chest and side. He crushed her nose and larynx and broke several ribs. In 25-30 minutes she smothered because her chest was crushed.

The next morning, on July 26, 2006, searchers found her nude and battered body on a mound of kudzu partially hidden by vines and leaves.

Jennifer Ewing's oldest son, Jimmy, said Friday that he turned to his faith when he tried to understand how a "life so beautiful and grounded could come to such a tragic end."

" I can't fully satisfy my craving to understand what happened to Mom," the son said after the death penalty was announced.

The younger Ewing said the family's pain since the murder "in the very end told me about sacrifice and love" and showed him how "brave and beautiful" his mother really was. "I am so very proud."

When Jimmy Ewing finished, his father turned to the rest of the family and said: "Let's go home."

Ledford's lawyers had pleaded with jurors earlier Friday to spare the alcoholic's life.

"We want to make sure Michael is punished," attorney Tom West said. "And we want justice to be served. Life without parole will satisfy all these. We don't need to kill him."

But the Paulding County jury also was left with a reminder from District Attorney Drew Lane: "Michael Ledford does not have a conscience... Michael Ledford is a psychopath. He doesn't take responsibility. He doesn't have empathy for others."

The jury of 10 men and two women agreed. After 2 and a half hours of deliberation they chose death over life without parole or life with the possibility of parole.

In addition to the death sentence, Judge Osborne sentenced Ledford to the maximum penalty for all other crimes he committed in the case: three life-without-parole sentences, plus 80 years, all concurrent.

"I have imposed the maximum sentence that the law allows in this case," the judge told Ledford. "Your actions have been despicable to another human being. To you, Michael William Ledford, may God have mercy on your soul."

Ledford becomes the 105th person on Georgia's death row. He will spend his time on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, 40 miles south of Atlanta.