By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — The family of a mentally-ill man acquitted in 2010 of killing his grandfather told a Clayton County Superior Court judge they are terrified of him and would fight any attempts at his release.
Judge Albert Collier agreed and said he has several concerns about Herbert George Ledford III, 28. Ledford was acquitted of the May 2008 shooting death of his grandfather, Jack Uselton, 67, based on his mental illness.
Ledford was first confined to Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta and transferred in January 2011 to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. He was in court Tuesday asking for an increase in privileges. Attorney Charles B. Hess called one witness to testify for Ledford, Dr. Christian Hildreth. Hildreth is forensic director at Central State and he evaluated Ledford for the hearing.
Hildreth testified that Ledford suffers from a schizoaffective disorder of a bipolar type involving manic and depressive states. Hildreth said Ledford appeared to respond to medication since his hospitalization but suffered a sort of relapse in May, resulting in three attacks on two patients in September and October.
Hildreth said Ledford was charged with simple battery in one of the attacks.
"The patient was seriously injured and suffered an orbital fracture," he said.
Hildreth said the charge was dead-docketed March 21 and will be dropped in a year if Ledford stays out of trouble.
During an off-campus trip, Ledford separated from the group and solicited a prostitute, said Hildreth.
Under cross-examination by Clayton County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Dixon, Hildreth acknowledged the seriousness of Ledford's condition. Hildreth testified that Ledford is "extremely dangerous" without his medication and needs to remain hospitalized.
Hess tried to even out the situation by getting Hildreth to agree that Ledford has been amenable to receiving medication. However, Hildreth also pointed out that Ledford's treatment requires involuntary medication if he refuses.
"He will have to take medication from now on," Hildreth said. "And we can force medication if necessary."
The atmosphere in the courtroom changed when Michael Chupp took the stand. Chupp said he is married to Ledford's aunt, one of Uselton's daughters.
"Since May 2008, everybody in our family lives in fear every day," said Chupp.
Under cross-examination by Hess, Chupp said he has not visited Ledford in the hospital and has had no contact since Uselton's death. Chupp has talked to relatives who have visited Ledford, however.
"Did that alleviate any of your fears?" said Hess.
Chupp's face tightened as he responded.
"None whatsoever," he said. "If anything, it's increased it."
Hess also asked if Chupp would have any involvement in Ledford's treatment.
"Me helping with his treatment? No," said Chupp. "My wife, my family live in fear day by day. It's an agonizing situation. We've been through grief counseling. Has it gotten easier? Yes. Have we forgiven him? Yes. Have we forgotten what he's done? Never."
After Chupp's testimony, Collier had a question for Hildreth, who re-took the stand.
"Are you aware Mr. Ledford has contacted the court twice?" said Collier. "He asked me to consider his release in October 2011."
Collier said he responded to Ledford he wouldn't take any action until he received something from the doctors treating him. Hildreth said he was unaware of the correspondence.
In his closing statement, Hess said Ledford is legally allowed to participate in off-campus activities and asked that Collier approve visits to group homes in anticipation of a conditional release.
Dixon countered with an argument that Ledford is "extremely dangerous."
"His grandfather was literally on the toilet when he shot and killed him," said Dixon. "He's been confined for four years with incidents, one serious involving broken bones and new charges. He's extremely dangerous and the family is terribly frightened. He is a serious threat to re-offend and should be under lock and key."
"The court finds the defendant continues to meet the criteria for involuntary commitment and I'm not going to authorize a release," he said. "The court is concerned about what occurred during the off-campus visit and revokes any privilege for off-campus visits. He is to remain under direct supervision and not allowed to leave."