818 F.3d 600 (11th Cir. 2016), 14-15650, Ledford v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison

Docket Nº:14-15650
Citation:818 F.3d 600, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 124
Opinion Judge:HULL, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:J. W. LEDFORD, JR., Petitioner-Appellant, v. WARDEN, GEORGIA DIAGNOSTIC AND CLASSIFICATION PRISON, Respondent-Appellee
Attorney:For J. W. Ledford, Jr., Petitioner - Appellant: Mary Elizabeth Wells, Law Office of M.E. Wells, Atlanta, GA; John D. Cline, Law Office of John D. Cline, San Francisco, CA. For Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison, Respondent - Appellee: Beth Attaway Burton, Sabrina Graham, Attorney General's Office,...
Judge Panel:Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, HULL and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 21, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Petitioner, a death-row inmate, filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, raising several challenges to his conviction and death sentence. The district court held an evidentiary hearing and found that petitioner was not intellectually disabled. The district court denied petitioner's multiple claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. However, the district court granted a certificate of appealability (COA... (see full summary)


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818 F.3d 600 (11th Cir. 2016)

26 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 124

J. W. LEDFORD, JR., Petitioner-Appellant,



No. 14-15650

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 21, 2016

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. D.C. Docket No. 1:02-cv-01515-SCJ.

For J. W. Ledford, Jr., Petitioner - Appellant: Mary Elizabeth Wells, Law Office of M.E. Wells, Atlanta, GA; John D. Cline, Law Office of John D. Cline, San Francisco, CA.

For Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison, Respondent - Appellee: Beth Attaway Burton, Sabrina Graham, Attorney General's Office, Atlanta, GA.

Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, HULL and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.


HULL, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner J.W. Ledford, Jr., a Georgia death-row inmate, filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus, raising multiple challenges to his capital conviction and death sentence. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing on Ledford's claim that he is intellectually disabled and not subject to execution.1 Ultimately, the district court found Ledford was not intellectually disabled. Subsequently, the district court denied Ledford's petition as to his multiple ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, but granted a certificate of appealability (" COA" ) as to his intellectual disability claim and several claims of ineffective trial counsel in the guilt and penalty phases.

Having considered the district court and state court records, the district court's thorough orders, and the parties' submissions, and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm the denial of Ledford's § 2254 petition.


A. Murder of Dr. Johnston

On January 31, 1992, at some time during mid-afternoon, Antoinette Johnston saw her husband, Dr. Harry Johnston, Jr., a " feeble" 73-year-old physician, drive away in his truck with an unidentified person in the passenger seat. About 15 or 20 minutes after the truck left, Ledford appeared at Mrs. Johnston's front door, introduced himself, and asked if Dr. Johnston was home. Mrs. Johnston replied that Dr. Johnston was not home, and Ledford left. About ten minutes later, Ledford returned to the Johnston residence and asked Mrs. Johnston to tell Dr. Johnston to come to his house later that night. Mrs. Johnston said she would relay the message, and Ledford left.

Approximately ten minutes later, Ledford appeared at Mrs. Johnston's front door again, but this time he brandished a knife belonging to Dr. Johnston and forced his way into the residence. Ledford put the knife to Mrs. Johnston's throat, told her that he would kill her, and demanded that she give him all of her money and guns. Mrs. Johnston retreated to the bedroom, got her wallet, and gave Ledford what money she had. Ledford then saw a pistol on the bedside table, which belonged to Mrs. Johnston, and took it.

Next, Ledford grabbed Mrs. Johnston's arm and forced her to walk to the kitchen and through the hallway, where Ledford spotted a rifle, a shotgun, and a second pistol, all belonging to the Johnstons, which he also took. Ledford forced Mrs. Johnston into the bedroom, told her to lie on the bed, threatened to kill her, and tied her hands together with rope. Ledford told Mrs. Johnston that he was doing this " for drugs." Finally, Ledford cut the telephone cord in the bedroom, told Mrs. Johnston not to move for ten minutes, gathered the money and guns, and left out the front door.

After Ledford left, Mrs. Johnston ran to the front door, locked it, and went to the kitchen where she got a knife and attempted to cut her bindings loose. She then went back to the front living room, looked outside, and saw Ledford backing out of the driveway in Dr. Johnston's truck. Dr. Johnston was not in the truck with Ledford, and Mrs. Johnston was worried about his safety. At approximately 3:45 PM, Mrs. Johnston called the police to report the robbery, and to express worry that Ledford had harmed her husband.

After the robbery, Ledford went to a pawn shop and pawned the rifle that he stole from the Johnston residence. He then went to a different pawn shop and pawned the shotgun that he stole from the Johnston residence. Ledford then drove Dr. Johnston's truck to a convenience store, bought a pack of cigarettes, and left, heading southbound on the 411 highway. At approximately 4:15 PM, law enforcement officers pulled Ledford over on the side of the 411 highway and arrested him. They seized two handguns from the front seat of the truck, a buck knife and another small knife from the passenger's side floorboard, and $245 from Ledford's pants pocket.

At approximately 6:00 PM, detectives arrived at the Johnston residence. Dr. Johnston's body was discovered near the garage of the residence, partially hidden under some tree limbs. A pool of blood was found in the garage, with a trail of blood leading to Dr. Johnston's body. Buckled to Dr. Johnston's belt was a sheath that would have held the buck knife recovered from the truck during Ledford's arrest.

B. Ledford's Confession

While in custody, law enforcement officers advised Ledford of his Miranda2 rights in writing. Ledford then voluntarily provided a legible and coherent hand-written statement where he confessed to stabbing Dr. Johnston.

In his written confession, Ledford stated that he went to Dr. Johnston's house at 2:00 PM to ask for a ride to the grocery store, which Dr. Johnston agreed to provide. On their way, Dr. Johnston accused Ledford of stealing and then drove the truck back to his house. According to Ledford, Dr. Johnston got out of the truck, brought Ledford to the side of his garage, and started to " smack" Ledford with his hand, causing Ledford to fall to the ground.

Ledford stated that Dr. Johnston then pulled a knife from the sheath in his belt and cut Ledford's hand. In response, Ledford pulled out his own knife and " stuck" Dr. Johnston in the neck. Ledford got back on his feet and pulled the knife from Dr. Johnston's neck, which " went over and cut the shit out of him." Ledford dragged the body away and covered it up.

Next, Ledford stated that he entered the Johnston residence with a knife, tied up Mrs. Johnston, and stole a shotgun, a rifle, two pistols, and some money. He left the Johnston residence in Dr. Johnston's truck and, at some point, threw his pocket knife out of the window onto the side of the road.

Ledford subsequently took law enforcement officers to the site where he disposed of the knife, which the officers recovered.

C. Indictment, Appointment of Counsel, and Not-Guilty Plea

On February 10, 1992, a state grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Ledford with the murder of Dr. Johnston, felony murder, burglary, kidnapping, and two counts of armed robbery. Ledford pleaded not guilty.

On February 19, 1992, the state trial court appointed Sam Little and Matthew Thames to represent Ledford. On March 18, 1992, the prosecutor filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, citing certain aggravating circumstances.


On April 28, 1992, attorneys Little and Thames filed a petition for a psychiatric evaluation of Ledford. The state trial court granted the petition and ordered the Georgia Department of Human Resources to examine and evaluate Ledford's mental health.

On June 10, 1992, Dr. Samuel Perri, a licensed psychologist, performed an initial psychological evaluation of Ledford at the county jail, and from June 25, 1992, through the middle of August 1992, Ledford was evaluated at Central State Hospital. Dr. Perri summarized his findings in a September 10, 1992 report.

During Dr. Perri's June 10, 1992 evaluation, Ledford was " alert" and " well oriented to person, place, time, and his . . . legal situation." His conversation was " rational, logical and goal directed." On the Weschsler Adult Intelligence Scale--Revised (" WAIS-R" ), Ledford scored a 77, which placed him in the " upper part of the borderline range" for mental retardation. Dr. Perri opined that Ledford's psychological profile suggested that " substance abuse [was] likely" for Ledford.

Dr. Perri stated that his evaluation of Ledford " did not reveal any information that would suggest that Mr. Ledford should not be considered legally responsible for his actions as they relate to the charges pending against him." Dr. Perri found that Ledford had the " mental capacity to distinguish right from wrong." Ledford informed Dr. Perri that on the day of Dr. Johnston's murder, he drank a six-pack of 16-ounce beers, smoked ten joints, and maybe took some pills, though he was not sure, and was generally " messed...

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