Georgia executes man in 1992 murder

Death penalty opponents stand at the State Capitol on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in Atlanta to protest the planned execution of J.W. Ledford for the 1992 murder of his elderly neighbor. The series marked the country's first back-to-back executions in nearly two decades.

Ledford, 45, had spent about a quarter century on death row. He told police he had gone to the house to ask for a ride, and lashed out after Johnston accused him of stealing and hit him. He tied up Johnston's wife and drove away in Johnston's truck, pawning a shotgun and rifle at a local pawnshop. He was arrested later that day.

Ledford's execution was scheduled for 7 p.m.

After midnight, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution, clearing the way for the lethal injection of compounded barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal of a lower court's refusal to stop the execution. His stay of execution request was denied by a federal appeals court on Monday.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Ledford's attorneys had failed to show that execution by pentobarbital would be "sure or very likely" to cause him extreme pain as required by U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Ledford's lawyers had also requested that he be executed by firing squad as an alternative.

When challenging an execution method on those grounds, a U.S. Supreme Court precedent requires inmates to propose a known and available alternative.

They suggested using a firing squad, but, that is not allowed under Georgia Law.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, only authority in Georgia with the power to commute a death sentence, declined to spare Ledford's life.

"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", lawyers wrote, arguing the execution would violate the Eighth Amendment. Just as juvenile offenders are considered less culpable and not the "worst of the worst" for whom the death penalty is reserved, Ledford's lawyers argued the execution of those under 21 is also unconstitutional.

A Butts County Superior Court judge rejected that petition, and Ledford's lawyers have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

State attorneys called the defense's claim "manipulative", and an expert employed by the state said the amount of pentobarbital in the injection is "more than sufficient" to cause Ledford's death without pain, regardless of his past prescription drug use.

Arkansas drew intense worldwide scrutiny when it announced it would be carrying out eight executions in an 11-day period last month. Ledell Lee was executed on April 20; Kenneth Williams was executed April 27.

Ledford fatally stabbed his neighbor, Dr. Harry Johnston-the man who had actually delivered Ledford as a baby, the BBC reports-in his home before lifting money, guns, and a vehicle from the home and threatening Johnston's wife and tying her up. The others included seven in Texas, two in Alabama, and one each in Florida and Missouri. The first recorded execution in Georgia was in 1735, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The method of execution from 1735 to 1924 was hanging.

The U.S. Supreme Court had not ruled on J.W.

  • Leroy Wright