Savage Truth: A Condemned Killer's Kiss

This is a column of opinion and analysis by 13WMAZ's Randall Savage.

Before their executions, many of Georgia's condemned killers apologize for their crimes and ask for forgiveness.

Not J.W. Ledford.

Ledford, like dozens before him, sat slightly elevated and strapped in the death chair. There were tubes attached to the needle inserted in his arms. Those devices would carry the fluids that put him to death.

People - including law enforcement, prosecutors, family members and media representatives - filled the cramped witness area where a plate glass separated Ledford from the spectators.

The death chamber is located at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. Warden Eric Sellers read the execution order and asked Ledford if he wanted to make a final statement.

"What we have here is a failure to communicate," Ledford said. "Some men you just can't reach."

On Sept. 30, 2015, the warden asked Kelly Rene Gissendaner if she wanted to make a final statement. Gissendaner was the only woman on Georgia's death row. She was there after being convicted of the 1993 murder of her husband, Doug Gissendaner.

Gissendaner didn't mumble about bumbled communication. She apologized.

"Bless you all," she said. "Tell the Gissendaners I am so, so sorry that amazing man lost his life because of me. If I could take it back, I would."

Gissendaner began singing the religious hymn Amazing Grace, and she continued singing it until the deadly juices poisoned her life.

After the brief pause, Ledford resumed his miscommunication rant. "I'm not a failure," he said. "You are a failure to communicate." He briefly paused again.

The 45-year-old Ledford was on death row for the January 1992 murder of his 73-year-old neighbor, Dr. Harry Johnston. The murder happened in the northwest Georgia county of Murray.

Johnston is the doctor that delivered Ledford 20 years earlier. 

Ledford was convicted of malice murder, two counts of armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping Johnston's wife, Antoinette. During the rampage, Johnston's head was almost cut off.

On Dec. 9, 2014, Robert Wayne Holsey was executed for the 1995 murder of Baldwin County Deputy Will Robinson. 

Robinson's father and his two younger brothers were sitting in the witness area when Holsey apologized for his actions.

"I'm sorry for taking their son's life," Holsey said. "He didn't deserve to die that night, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

A month later, Andrew Howard Branner was executed for the 1998 murder of Laurens County Deputy Kyle Dinkheller.

"I want to send my condolences to the Dinkheller family, especially his parents, his wife and his two children," Branner said.

He also talked about his life in prison after his conviction.

"I feel like my status was slow torture for the last 15 years. I had to say that with them here,"  Branner said. "I know it doesn't have much money, and they do the best they can, but I have to tell the truth. I'm certainly glad to be leaving."

In the days leading up to his execution, Ledford asked that he be killed by firing squad. His attorneys argued that because Ledford had been taking a prescription drug to treat sever pain, the pentobarbital used in the execution wouldn't work properly. It would subject the condemned killer to unusual pain and suffering.

Ledford's request for death by firing squad was denied.

So there Ledford sat in the death chamber hooked to the devices that would deliver the lethal injection into his body that spent more years behind bars than free.

Before taking his last breath, Ledford let his final words deliver his final slash on society.

"You can kiss my white trash a--."

Randall Savage is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and host of 13WMAZ's "Close Up" talk show which airs Saturdays at noon and 6 a.m. Sundays. Follow him on Twitter at @RandallWMAZ.

© 2017 WMAZ-TV


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