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Thursday 18 January 2018

Georgia carries out first execution of the year for 1992 stabbing

JW Ledford Jr was pronounced dead at the state prison in Jackson, more than six hours after his initial execution time (Georgia Department of Corrections/AP)
JW Ledford Jr was pronounced dead at the state prison in Jackson, more than six hours after his initial execution time (Georgia Department of Corrections/AP)

The US state of Georgia has carried out its first execution of the year, putting to death a man convicted of killing a 73-year-old neighbour in 1992.

JW Ledford Jr, 45, was pronounced dead at the state prison in Jackson, more than six hours after his initial execution time. The delay came as he waited for a ruling from the US Supreme Court, which denied his request for a stay.

He was convicted of murder for the stabbing in January 1992 of Harry Johnston in Murray County, north-west Georgia.

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.

He told police he had gone to Mr Johnston's home on January 31 1992, to ask for a lift to the grocery store.

After the older man accused him of stealing and smacked him, Ledford pulled out a knife and stabbed Mr Johnston to death, according to court filings.

The pathologist who did the post-mortem said Mr Johnston suffered "one continuous or two slices to the neck".

After dragging the body to another part of the property and covering it up, Ledford went to Mr Johnston's house with a knife and demanded money from his wife, according to court filings.

He took money and four guns from the home, tied up the wife and left in Mr Johnston's truck. He was arrested later that day.

Ledford told police he had a number of beers and smoked a couple joints in the hours before the killing.

His lawyers had asked the parole board to spare him, citing a rough childhood, substance abuse from an early age and an intellectual disability. After a hearing on Monday, the board declined to grant clemency.

Because of changes in brain chemistry caused by a drug Ledford had been taking for chronic nerve pain for more than a decade, there was a high risk that the pentobarbital Georgia planned to use to execute him would not render him unconscious and devoid of sensation or feeling, his lawyers wrote in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday.

That would violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment enshrined in the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, the lawsuit said.

When challenging an execution method on those grounds, a US Supreme Court precedent requires inmates to propose a known and available alternative, and Ledford's lawyers proposed that he be executed by firing squad, a method that is not allowed under Georgia law.

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

District Judge Steve Jones also said the decision to wait until a few days before his execution date to file the lawsuit suggested a stalling tactic.

Ledford's lawyers appealed to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals and asked that court to temporarily halt the execution. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit on Monday rejected that request.

His lawyers also asked a state court judge to halt the execution because he was only 20 and his brain was not fully developed when he killed Mr Johnston. Just as juvenile offenders are considered less culpable and not the "worst of the worst" for whom the death penalty is reserved, the execution of those under 21 is also unconstitutional, Ledford's lawyers argued.

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

Ledford is the first inmate executed this year in Georgia. The state executed nine inmates last year, more than any other state and the most Georgia had executed in a single calendar year since the US Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume 40 years ago.


Press Association

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