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Detective wants mental care for murder suspect

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A Clayton County Police detective urged the court to get mental health care for the 24-year-old man charged with murdering his grandfather.

"He needs immediate mental health care," said Detective Steve Rotella. "Attention. Medication. He needs help."

Herbert George Ledford, III, allegedly shot his grandfather in the face and tried to burn down his Panhandle Road home on May 23. While being interviewed by police, he reportedly said his grandfather could have been murdered by "someone in the basement."

According to Rotella, who is certified by the Police Officers Standards and Training Council to deal with mental health cases, Ledford seems to have delusions and paranoia. He has a history of mental health problems and violent outbursts.

During a probable cause hearing Thursday evening, Ledford, a tall, skinny man with a bushy brown beard, was surrounded by six sheriff's deputies. Three others stood in the back of the courtroom.

According to the police investigation, led by Detective David Robinson, Ledford's brother saw him talking to himself and holding a black pistol at about 5 p.m., that Friday night. The younger son called his mother, who was in Florida, and reported Ledford's condition. Ledford's grandfather, Jack Uselton, was asked to check in on him, and showed up at the Hampton house with something for the 24-year-old to eat at about 7 p.m.

A relative, who lives nearby, told police she went to check on Ledford and Uselton a couple of times, and saw the two men sitting on the couch around 9 p.m. Uselton was talking about the Braves, Robinson said during the probable cause hearing.

"He was making some small talk," the detective said. "But Ledford wouldn't respond."

The relative returned later that night, checking in after Ledford's truck was gone from the house, Robinson said. She smelled an overpowering smell of gas, and called 911.

Firefighters found the master bedroom on fire and found Uselton dead in the bathroom, according to Robinson.

Ledford was arrested the next morning, when he drove up to the house while police were investigating the scene. He reportedly told police he went to the movies, in Peachtree City, went to a club and hung out in the parking lot and checked in at the Atlanta-Buckhead Hyatt.

There's no evidence he went to the movies or to a club, but Ledford paid $125 for room 619 at the Hyatt at about 4 a.m., the detectives said.

Rotella said he interviewed Ledford for several hours, on May 24, but didn't get much concrete information. He said Ledford didn't respond with any emotion to his grandfather's death, though he described himself as close to the man. Rotella described the murder suspect as "zoned out," "flat," and "disconnected."

"He seemed very distant," Rotella said. "Staring off. Looking up at the ceiling or down at the ground. Shifting in his seat. He remained very monotone and would disconnect when it got very sensitive."

Robinson said that when the detectives left the interview room, leaving Ledford by himself, he was seen on the monitors, inexplicably laughing in the empty room.

The 24-year-old's case was bound over to Superior Court, at the end of the probable cause hearing, and his attorney waived bond.

Joe Roberto, representing Ledford, said he wants to work with the district attorney's office to get Ledford psychologically evaluated into a treatment program.

Roberto told the judge, "In plain street language, he ain't right and he needs mental health care."