America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Georgia: J.W. Ledford Jr. denied clemency; will be executed Tuesday

J.W. Ledford Jr.
J.W. Ledford Jr.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency for J.W. Ledford Jr., who will be executed Tuesday for the January 1992 murder of 73-year-old Dr. Harry Buchanan Johnston Jr. in Murray County.

The decision by the five-member parole board "came after an exhaustive review of the inmate’s parole case file and following a meeting today to receive information for or against clemency," according to a press release from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. The hearing began this morning.

The Georgia Department of Corrections has scheduled Ledford’s execution for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

Ledford was convicted of malice murder, as well as two counts of armed robbery, one count of burglary and one count of kidnapping. 

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Ledford’s request to appeal on April 3. The Murray County Superior Court issued the order for the execution of Ledford.

"The parole board maintains a comprehensive file on each death row inmate," according to the press release. "The file contains the history of the inmate’s life, including the inmate’s criminal history and the circumstances of the crime that was committed resulting in the death sentence. Prior to today’s meeting the board members had thoroughly reviewed that information."

Source: Dalton Daily CITIZEN, May 15, 2017

Condemned killer’s family asks parole board to stop Tuesday execution

Advocates for condemned killer J.W. “Boy” Ledford asked the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop his execution set for tomorrow and give him a chance to continue supporting his son and other inmates on Death Row.

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

Before deciding on his clemency petition, the board will hear from those who want to see Ledford, 45, punished for stabbing to death his 73-year-old neighbor and the physician who delivered him, Dr. Harry Johnston, 25 years ago.

Georgia Death Row Inmate Seeks Execution By Firing Squad

In their clemency petition, his lawyers write that Ledford 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 court 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 executions.

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, Antoinette, 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.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 15, 2017

State considers stay of execution for Murray County man

A clemency hearing for a Murray County man whose execution is set for Tuesday evening is underway.

The five-member state Board of Pardons and Paroles convened this morning to hear arguments for converting J.W. “Boy” Ledford Jr.’s death sentence into a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His mother, Mattie Ledford, sisters and others are scheduled to speak this morning.

Board members will then hear arguments this afternoon for why they shouldn’t reduce Ledford’s sentence. They could make a decision as soon as this evening.

If Ledford’s request for clemency is denied, he will be the first person to be executed in Georgia this year.

Ledford was convicted in 1992 of killing his neighbor, 73-year-old Dr. Harry Johnston. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials have described the murder as being especially brutal, with the doctor’s head nearly severed in the attack.

Five jurors, though, have since said that they would have preferred to send Ledford to prison for the rest of his life had it been an option at the time, according to Ledford’s application for clemency.

Ledford’s attorneys, led Monday by John Cline of San Francisco, have also asked the board to consider Ledford’s remorse as well as his young age at the time of the murder and his intellectual disability.

The 45-year-old has also unsuccessfully sought to be executed by a firing squad rather than lethal injection.

His attorneys argued that death by lethal injection is unconstitutional because it would he would “suffer an excruciating death” due to Ledford’s long-term use of prescription medications for “severe and chronic nerve pain,” according to court documents.

“His long-term exposure to this medication has changed the chemistry of his brain so that (Ledford’s) lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, will not reliably render him unconscious and insensate,” attorneys argued in court documents.

Source: Tifton Gazette, May 15, 2017

J.W. Ledford's Bid for Firing Squad Rejected on Execution Eve

A federal appeals court has denied a stay of execution to a Georgia man who argued a firing squad would be a more humane way to die than the lethal injection the state has planned.

A few hours earlier, the state Parole Board rejected a bid for clemency for J.W. "Boy" Ledford Jr., who is on death row for murdering the doctor who delivered him into the world.

Ledford, 45, is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday at 7 p.m. His execution would be the 1st this year in Georgia, which killed 9 prisoners last year.

Much of the debate about execution drugs across the nation has centered on midazolam, a sedative that has been used in several lethal injections that did not go as planned.

Georgia uses pentobarbital, seen as a more reliable drug, to induce unconsciousness and then death. But Ledford's lawyers argued that because he has been taking a prescription drug to treat nerve pain for years, the pentobarbital won't work as intended.

"Accordingly, there is a substantial risk that Mr. Ledford will be aware and in agony as the pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart, and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva," they wrote in court papers.

Court rulings require prisoners challenging 1 execution method to offer an alternative, and Ledford suggested a firing squad, even though Georgia law doesn't include that as a method of execution.

The state offered analysis from its own expert, who said the amount of pentobarbital in the injection "is more than sufficient" to cause death without pain regardless of Ledford's past use of a nerve drug.

In his application for clemency, Ledford, 45, cited a horrific childhood in an abusive home, early exposure to drugs and alcohol, an allegedly low IQ, and his remorse.

"He does not try to hide away from the harm he caused and is open with anyone he knows about the pain and about his sadness for the family," his attorneys wrote.

"His son says that when he finally asked his father if he did what they said, his father looked him straight in the eye and said, yes, and that he was sorry and when you take a man's life you can never give it back."

Ledford killed Dr. Harry Johnston after the physician gave him a ride; the victim was nearly decapitated. He then went to the doctor's home and tied up and robbed his wife; she has since died.

"I've seen the pictures," Conasauga District Attorney Bert Poston, who presented the state's case for execution to the parole board, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"I've been doing this for 25 years and I've handled a lot of murder cases and I can't think of many that come close."

Source: NBC news, May 16, 2017

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