In an 8-to-1 vote, the Supreme Court of Georgia has denied a stay of execution for J.W. Ledford, Jr., who is scheduled to be put to death tonight at 7:00 p.m. by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, GA.
Ledford, 45, was sentenced to death in Murray County for the murder of his 73-year-old neighbor, Dr. Harry Buchanan Johnston, Jr. On Jan. 31, 1992, Ledford, who was 20 at the time, went to his neighbor’s house and stabbed the physician to death, nearly decapitating him. After dragging Johnston’s body to a small building on the Johnston property and covering it up, Ledford returned to the home and forced his way in, holding a knife to Johnston’s wife, Antoinette. Threatening to kill her, Ledford pushed her throughout the house, demanding money and guns. After stealing some guns, he forced her onto the bed, tied her up, then left. She was able to free herself and call the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement officers found Johnston’s body near the small building. According to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, following his injuries, Johnston lived about eight or nine minutes before bleeding to death.
In addition to denying Ledford’s motion for a stay of execution, the state Supreme Court has also denied his request to appeal today’s ruling by the Butts County Superior Court. Earlier today, that court denied his motion for a stay and rejected his attorneys’ claim that his age at the time of the crime should make him ineligible for the death penalty. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, it is unconstitutional to execute anyone who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. Ledford’s attorneys wanted the Georgia Supreme Court to raise the minimum age to 21, arguing that “neuroscience has shown that an adolescent brain does not fully mature until a person is in his mid-20s.” State and federal laws imposing minimum age requirements on such things as consumption of alcohol and obtaining a concealed carry handgun permit confirm that young adults aged 18, 19, and 20 are not as responsible as those over 21, the attorneys contended. They also argued that the death penalty largely has fallen into disuse nationally and internationally for people 18-to-21.
In today’s decision, all the Justices concurred except Justice Robert Benham, who dissented. (Judge Tilman E. Self, III of the Georgia Court of Appeals sat by designation in place of Justice Britt Grant, who was disqualified.)