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Michael Ledford to Appeal Death Sentence Jan. 24 | Crime

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Michael Ledford to Appeal Death Sentence Jan. 24
Michael Ledford to Appeal Death Sentence Jan. 24

ATLANTA -- On Monday, Jan. 24, Michael William Ledford will appeal his conviction and death sentence for the murder of Jennifer Ewing, who was attacked and killed while biking along the Silver Comet Trail.

According to evidence presented at the trial in this high-profile case, on the morning of July 25, 2006, Ewing, 53, spoke to her daughter and son before leaving their house for her normal 25-mile bike ride along the trail.

When she did not return by dinnertime, Ewing's husband and two sons went to the trail to look for her. After finding her locked van, her husband called police.

A search party of about 100 people began combing the Cobb County portion of the trail. The next day, Paulding County police located her bike shorts near mile marker 17. Soon after, they discovered Ewing's body about 75 feet away from the shorts, lying next to a dirt trail near Winndale Road and Snooky Road.

At the time of the murder, Ledford was living with his mother and stepfather in Paulding County and working at T & R Fixtures. He left the house at 5:30 a.m. that day, but did not report to work. He later gave a statement saying that he bought alcohol instead and headed to the Silver Comet Trail to drink.

Ledford's mother stated that he returned home around 2:00 p.m. "in bad shape," "completely sweaty and . . . [t]here was blood on his private parts." He also had scrapes on his hands and forehead. He refused to go to the hospital "because they would call police."

Ledford told his family that after having oral sex with a prostitute, he told her he could not pay her, and she bit him. To loosen her hold, he said he had beaten her into unconsciousness.

Afraid that her son had hurt the woman, Ledford's mother called his probation officer and had him arrested for drinking in violation of his probation.

Eventually, investigators tied Ledford to Ewing's murder. Witnesses testified they saw his stepfather's car near the crime scene, while Ledford's DNA was recovered on Ewing's socks, her bike and some leaves. Due to decomposition, the GBI was unable to obtain a DNA profile from Ewing's body.

According to the prosecution, while drinking in the woods, Ledford knocked Ewing off her bicycle, removed her shorts, dragged her into the woods, lifted up her shirt and tried to force her to have oral sex with him. She managed to bite him before he strangled and beat her.

The medical examiner said that she suffered over a period of 15 to 30 minutes before dying -- "a very unpleasant mechanism of death."

At trial, prosecutors were able to show that Ledford was on parole at the time of Ewing's murder for a 1991 rape conviction. "Similar transaction evidence" also showed that he had attempted to attack Dr. Virginia Bell-Pringle in 2005 as she biked along the Silver Comet Trail.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, evidence showed Ledford had committed multiple acts of sex and violence toward women, including his 14-year-old niece.

In May 2009, the jury convicted him of Malice Murder, Aggravated Sodomy and other crimes, and he was sentenced to death. He now appeals to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

His attorneys argue in a 97-page brief that the trial court made 52 errors. They made multiple claims about the jury selection process, including issues regarding jurors' death penalty views, race and gender.

Other errors his attorneys claim were made by the trial court include failing to move the trial to another location due to publicity, allowing the presentation of evidence of the rape conviction and Dr. Bell-Pringle's allegations of an attack, granting the State's motion to take the jury to the crime scene, denying their challenge of lethal injection as a means of execution, and refusing to instruct the jury that they could consider Ledford guilty of the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter, based on evidence showing that his actions were provoked by Ewing biting him.

In its 232-page brief, the State dispels each of Ledford's enumerated errors, concluding that the Supreme Court should affirm his convictions and death sentence:

* There was no evidence to support a jury charge of voluntary manslaughter, as Ledford's attack was completely unprovoked.

* The trial court properly disqualified prospective jurors who could not consider the death penalty as a sentencing option.

* It properly qualified another group of possible jurors who proved through their statements that they could be fair and impartial.

* The trial court properly denied a change of venue because it was clear during jury selection that a non-biased jury could be formed, and most of the pre-trial coverage was published three years earlier.

* The court correctly allowed for similar transaction evidence to be presented after meeting the tests to do so.

* The court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the jury to view the crime scene.

* It properly denied Ledford's challenge of lethal injection as unconstitutional.