Thursday, November 18, 2010

Michael Ledford: An Overview

Stuarts Draft, Virginia
October / November 1999

One month after an apartment fire took the life of his one-year-old son and seriously burned his wife, Michael Ledford signed a document stating:
Around 8:00 P.M. we put Zach to bed then Elise went to bed at 8:30 P.M. I told Elise that I was going to put gas in the car and put my name on the EVAC sheet at the firehouse then write the check for Pied Piper then go to bed. Before I left, I lit a candle and threw it in the chair. I never wanted to hurt my family. I was tired of trying to live up to Elise's parents' standards. I now wish I had took my mom's advice and moved back to Pennsylvania. I agree I need help, and willing to get -- and willing to get help. I just hope my family and friends and God can forgive me.
Two fire investigators confirmed the arson.

A jury convicted Michael Ledford of first-degree murder and arson of an occupied dwelling.

A judge sentenced him to 45 years for the murder and 5 years for the arson. The sentences are to be served consecutively. There is no parole or early release in Virginia.

The appellate courts either affirmed the verdict or disallowed each appeal on technical grounds. Michael has no appeals left to him.

Michael's wife, having been informed that he confessed to setting the fire that burned her and took the life of her son, divorced him.


Pat Ledford has been working to free her son Michael for eleven years. Despite the bleak outlook, she won't give up. Despite more than a decade of discouragement, she won't give up.

I started speaking with Pat in August. I asked if she would be willing to provide every scrap of information she had on the case. She agreed. It turned out she had a lot of scraps; it took me a month or so to go through everything. During that time, we communicated only as necessary to have more and more information sent my way.

She never balked. I consider that a good sign. I won't work with someone who wants to control the data I can see. For me it's all about the data, at least in the beginning. That way, it's not as painful when I decline to help a mother (and it seems usually to be the mother) who is trying to free a son or daughter.

I don't work to free people from prison unless I am convinced they are factually innocent. When I begin, I don't know the people involved. I cannot take them at their word; I must see the data. I must have time to go over the data, to absorb it, sleep with it, wear it, and breathe it until it becomes part of me.

I have been through that process with the Michael Ledford case. I am absolutely confident that Michael  is factually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. I realize the outlook is bleak. Nonetheless, I hope I'll be able to help.

I'll discuss Michael's case in an extended series of posts here, in this blog. There will be lots of time for details later. Right now, in this first post, there is something more important to address than the details of the fire.

A child died that night, a woman was seriously burned, and a man lost his freedom. Parents lost a child, and grandparents lost a grandchild. It is too late to be of any good, but I offer my condolences to all parties personally affected by this tragedy.

The ex-wife and her parents have good reason to hold Michael responsible for all that has transpired. Michael confessed, and two fire investigators confirmed that the fire was arson consistent with that confession. I have no desire to cause the ex-wife and her parents any further distress.

I believe, however, that a grave injustice has been done to all those personally touched by the fire and its aftermath. I expect I will be able to show that Michael's confession was false, that the fire reports were tainted by that false confession, and that the fire started as a result of an electrical problem in the apartment.

Join me.