J. W. Ledford Jr. stabbed his 74-year-old neighbor to death during an armed robbery in 1992. His murder of his lifelong neighbor, Dr. Harry Buchanan, was so brutal that it left the victim’s head nearly decapitated, in addition to many other knife wounds. He’s scheduled to be put to death on Tuesday by the state of Georgia.
Now, in an 11th hour ploy, Ledford has asked to be executed by firing squad, not lethal injection which is Georgia’s only current method of execution. Ledford’s lawyers argue that death by lethal injection would subject him to “unconstitutional pain” because of a drug he’s been taking for over a decade called gabapentin. Ledford’s lawyers claim he uses it to treat chronic nerve pain.
His request for a firing squad was denied by the court, per a BBC report. Ledford’s lawyers are appealing.
Gabapentin is an anti-seizure drug that’s often used to calm the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Citing experts, Ledford’s lawyers claim that his prolonged used of the drug may have altered his brain in a way that could interfere with the effectiveness of the barbiturate being used to kill him in a single, powerful dose—pentobarbital.
“There is a substantial risk that Mr. Ledford will be aware and in agony as the pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart, and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva,” stated the lawyers in court records. They argue that the pain he’d be exposed to would violate the condemned man’s rights under the 8th Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” from being imposed by the government onto any citizen—even convicted criminals.
The US Supreme Court allows for an alternative method of execution to be offered, but only three states—Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah—allow for death row inmates to request a firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection. Ledford does not possess this option under Georgia state law, and other forms of lethal injection not involving pentobarbital are not available to Georgia’s corrections department due to restrictions by pharmaceutical companies.
Ledford’s lawyers call the situation an “unworkable standard,” given that he has no option to seek an alternative form of execution despite the US Supreme Court ruling.
Georgia state lawyers disagree, claiming there is “no substantial risk” for him to experience pain despite his claim of having extended exposure to gabapentin. They questioned the timing of his request.
“Plaintiff has waited until the eve of his execution to suddenly claim that he has been treated for pain with medication that will allegedly interfere with his execution,” they said. “If plaintiff really thought the firing squad was a reasonable alternative he could have alerted the state years ago, instead of five days, before his execution.”
Ledford will be the first person to be executed by the state of Georgia in 2017.