CHATSWORTH, Georgia (WDEF) – J. W. Ledford, Jr. did it.
There is no doubt.
He confessed to it all after his arrest.
The only question is whether he deserved to die for the murder he committed 25 years ago.
And that question could last longer than his life.
Ledford will be executed tonight at 7PM for the stabbing of 73 year old Dr. Harry Johnston in 1992.
But his attorney’s 25 page clemency appeal paints a sad picture of Ledford’s life before the deadly encounter.
The grim facts of the murder speak for themselves.
The elderly doctor, described as “feeble,” was found with a knife in his back.
But he was also cut so savagely around the neck that he was almost decapitated.
The coroner estimated that he lived about 8 minutes after the attack before bleeding to death.
The victim and his killer new each other, they were neighbors and Ledford’s mother had cleaned house for the Johnstons.
He later told police that the Doctor gave him a ride, but then accused Ledford of stealing from him.
Ledford says Johnson touched his own knife belt and threatened him, so he drew is own knife and stabbed the old man.
He then hid the body on the Johntson property and then went up to the house.
The doctor’s wife testified that the young man knocked on the door and asked to speak with the Doctor.
She said he just left. Ledford returned to ask her to tell the doctor to get in touch with him.
Then on the 3rd time at the door, he forced his way in with a knife.
He held her at knifepoint while he stole guns and cash from the home.
Then he left her tied up on the bed and left in the doctor’s pickup truck.
She soon untied herself and called the Sheriff.
Ledford immediately drove to a pawn the guns.
Deputies quickly discovered the body, traced him to the pawn shop and made an arrest within hours.
Just 10 months later, Ledford sat before a jury.
Self defense didn’t hold up in court.
His attorney presented evidence that he was drunk and high at the time of the murder (4 beers, marijuana).
It took them just a few days to sentence him to die.
He has spent the last 25 years on death row, exhausting his appeals.
His attorneys hope that his hard background and other details would convince someone to have mercy on him.
This was J.W.’s first and only criminal offense.
No one argued that he planned the murder.. it just happened.
J. W. was the seventh child born to his parents, the only son.
They just called him “Boy” in a house full of sisters.
His father was a violent alcoholic and addict, who never kept a job.
Growing up, his sister Tammy remembered praying “Oh Lord, please don’t let tonight be the night daddy kills us.”
His mother worked long hours to feed the children and wasn’t home to look after them.
“Boy” was raised by his sisters and attorneys say they didn’t make good choices for him.
They first got him drunk on moonshine when he was just seven, for the laughs.
A friend of the sisters said “We would give him moonshine and weed. We thought it was funny to watch a child get high and drunk.”
As he grew, J-W’s father decided to grow marijuana and forced his kids to sell for him.
His father often got his son drunk and stoned, then threatened to kill him for stealing his drugs.
Eventually his father would be put away for good on a drug conspiracy case in the Tennga area.
Although everyone knew he took drugs, but not a danger.
“He was never violent but rather a playful kid, a clown, a screwball.”
A former boss wrote “I still can’t believe that Boy killed the doctor because he just wan’t know to be a mean kid. It’s a small town and you hear things in a small town. I never heard about Boy being violent. He was more this happy, friendly kid.”
His attorneys say Ledford suffered from an intellectual disability.
He was held back in first grade, failed third grade, but kept being socially promoted to the 8th.
He tried twice, but never completed the 9th grade.
So why did he do it?
Ledford struggled with that during his jail time.
One man who visited him in the weeks after the murder, testified…
“Those first weeks I saw him, he dried in his cell every day. He told me once he could not believe that he killed Dr. Johnston because he liked the Johnstons and they had always been good to him. Another time he told me that going to court was the worst part of all of it, because he saw Mrs. Johnston and was so ashamed of what he did to her family. I remember those talks because they weren’t common to have in jail. Usually guys are bragging and wanting to show they don’t feel a thing.”
So do the facts speak for themselves.
Does J.W. Ledford deserve to die?
If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably ponder that question long after his final hour this evening.