DALTON, Ga. — The execution of J.W. “Boy” Ledford Jr. this week marked the state of Georgia’s first of 2017. But for the son of the Murray County doctor who was murdered by Ledford, the execution was nearly a quarter century in the making.
The state executed Ledford in Jackson early Wednesday morning by lethal injection for the murder of Dr. Harry Buchanan Johnston Jr., 73, at his home near Tennga in 1992.
During Monday’s clemency hearing before the State Board of Pardons and Parole, Logan Johnston said he told the board members that enough time had passed and it was time to bring the case to an end.
“The only input I have had in this entire process was Monday at the clemency hearing and I said what I had to say,” Johnston said in an interview with the Dalton, Georgia, Daily Citizen Tuesday afternoon. “I really just outlined the fact that it has taken this long — multiple appeals, multiple court rulings. I pointed out to the clemency board that my father didn’t get a trial and didn’t get an appeal and didn’t get a clemency hearing.”
Ledford stabbed Dr. Johnston in the neck, nearly severing his head from his torso. There were no defensive wounds.
He then robbed the doctor’s wife, Antoinette, tying her to a bed with rope he had in his pocket. He stole two pistols, a shotgun and a rifle. He was caught shortly after committing the crime and confessed to authorities the day after his arrest. He was convicted by a jury in November 1992 and sentenced to death.
Logan Johnston said it was a brutal death as photos shown at the clemency hearing brought those memories back. That again pointed out to him one of the major differences between his father and Ledford.
“My father was a physician, and he lived by the medical concept of ‘Do no harm.’ Dad really lived by that — not just in his medical practice but in life,” Logan Johnston said of his father, who was in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines in World War II. “The concepts of duty and honor were kind of a code he lived by. I don’t think Mr. Ledford had such a code.”
In his final moments, Ledford quoted from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” and before the microphone in the execution chamber was turned off, he said, “you can kiss my white trash ass.”
Since the murder, it has been a long process for Logan Johnston and his family.
He said he was disappointed that his mother couldn’t get the closure that Wednesday’s execution would have brought her. Antoinette Johnston died in February. During the clemency hearing, District Attorney Bert Poston spoke about her.
“(Poston) expressed the wish that she would live long enough to see justice carried out,” Logan Johnston said. “She couldn’t wait any longer, but I think she would finally have peace.”
Logan Johnston, who was 23 at the time of his father’s death, said over the years his anger has lessened but he has never forgotten the memories of his father. He still thinks he lost a lot of time with him.
“I’m not a super emotional person or someone who grieves a ton,” Johnston said. “People die and you move on and you keep your memories. But I still think of my dad every day. I have six kids who never got the chance to know their grandfather and he got robbed of the opportunity to know them.”
Logan Johnston was at his home Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as the execution took place. His daughter McKenzie represented the family at the execution, but he had no desire to go.
“Me being at the execution isn’t going to do anything,” he said. “My father is gone, and I don’t want to be a reminder for his family members who will be there. Honestly, his family didn’t commit a crime, and I almost feel like it is an intrusion to be there. I didn’t want to see a man die. I am not grieving or have any sympathy for Mr. Ledford, but I don’t have any ill will against his mother or his sisters.”
In a statement that McKenzie Johnston made to the Daily Citizen, she said, “Justice has been served.”
“The death of any human being is a tragic loss for their family members,” she said. “However, on behalf of my family, we do feel justice has been served today. The crimes this individual committed were devastating for my family and my Nana in particular. It is my hope that my Nana, God rest her soul, also knows justice has been served today.”
Whitfield writes for the Dalton, Georgia Daily Citizen.