U.S. court rejects Georgia inmate's 'firing squad' motion

David Beasley

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A U.S. appeals court has rejected a Georgia death row inmate's last-minute appeal to postpone his Tuesday execution by lethal injection and instead compel the state to use a firing squad, which his lawyers claim would be less painful for him.

J.W. Ledford, 45, has spent about a quarter century on death row after being convicted of the 1992 robbery and murder of a doctor who lived near him. He was scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT).

Lawyers for Ledford said he wants to be executed by firing squad because a drug he takes for nerve pain would lead to an “excruciating death” under Georgia’s current lethal injection protocol.

Georgia uses a single drug, pentobarbital, in its executions and does not have provisions for death by firing squad. The drug is a sedative and has been used by states such as Texas in dozens of executions without major incidents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit late on Monday denied Ledford's appeal filed last week after lawyers for Georgia said it was a delaying tactic and should be rejected because it relies on speculative allegations.

Ledford’s attorneys said in their filing that years of taking a drug for nerve pain changed his brain chemistry, which means pentobarbital will not reliably render him unconscious and insensate. They said its use would violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

"The Georgia legislature is free, within the parameters established by the United States Constitution, to choose the method of execution it deems appropriate. Execution by lethal injection has been ruled constitutional," a three-judge panel from the appeals court said in the decision.

If the execution goes ahead, it would be the 11th in the United States this year and the 70th in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

A lawyer for Ledford said his legal team would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ledford was 20 when he robbed and cut the throat of Harry Johnston, then 73, in northern Murray County, a court synopsis of the case said.

The doctor had one or two continuous slices to his neck that nearly severed his head from his body, the Georgia Attorney General's office said in a statement.

Ledford's lawyers have also requested courts to halt the execution on the grounds that he is intellectually disabled.

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