The tragic story of the killing of a son at the hands of his father came to a courtroom conclusion Friday as Duane Lynn Ledford, 49, of Colorado received the maximum allowable sentence of eight year’s incarceration.

Ledford has already spent more than two years in the Graham County Jail awaiting a resolution in his case since the fateful confrontation with his son, Duane Lynn Ledford Jr., 31, on April 15, 2010, in a home about 3.5 miles south of Safford. Ledford Sr.'s original charges included three counts of murder in the second degree and aggravated assault with a weapon.

According to an audio- and video-recorded interview given the morning after the stabbing, Ledford Sr. told investigators he had come to Arizona to help move his parents to Utah and to ask his son to move out of a manufactured home he owned. He said he was upset at the condition of the home.

An argument escalated into a shoving match after Ledford Jr. allegedly threatened to "put a bullet in his (Ledford Sr.'s) head," according to statements from Ledford Sr. The pushing match soon turned to full-blown fighting, according to interviews with Ledford Sr. and several witnesses at the scene, including Ledford Jr.'s three sons, ages 7 through 11, at the time of the incident and an acquaintance of Ledford Sr. who had traveled with him from Colorado.

Ledford Sr. told investigators he pulled out his Swiss Army knife to defend himself because his son would not stop hitting him. Ledford Jr. suffered multiple stab wounds to his face, neck and abdomen. After the stabbing, Ledford Sr. called 9-1-1 and told the operator that he "had to cut" his son in order to defend himself and that someone should get an ambulance there immediately.  

Ledford Jr. underwent emergency surgery at the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for several hours before he was stabilized. While still in critical condition, he was transferred to the St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. Ledford Jr. was pronounced brain dead Aug. 20 at St. Joseph's and pronounced dead at 8:55 p.m. the same night.   

The charges against Ledford Sr. were amended to a single charge of negligent homicide – a class-four felony – after he and the state compromised to a plea agreement during a marathon five-hour-plus settlement conference. The conference took place between Ledford Sr.'s attorneys Michael B. Bernays of Phoenix and Channen Day of Central and Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett. Gila County Superior Court Judge Pro Tempore Gary V. Scales served as the mediator.

On Friday, a packed courtroom witnessed Ledford Sr.'s sentencing with family members from both sides of the case pleading the judge for either the stiffest possible penalty or for leniency. Both sides said whatever penalty given would only be the temporal punishment, and Ledford Sr. would meet his ultimate fate in the afterlife.  

Ledford Jr.'s sister, brother, mother and stepfather spoke for the prosecution and described the agony the family has been put through and the need for closure.

They all echoed the same desire to see the maximum sentence imposed.

Ledford Jr.'s mother said the haunting images of her son being stabbed to death will be with her grandchildren forever and has imbedded a mental scar that impacts their daily lives.

"This type of psychological damage upon a child is (an) indefensible crime of inhumanity and (is) a life sentence," she said.

Prosecutor Bennett chastised Ledford Sr. for not avoiding a confrontation and instead starting a physical altercation with a person he knew to become combative while intoxicated.

He also pointed out that the Maricopa County Medical Examiner listed eight stab wounds to the victim, and Bennett described that as being excessive of simply self-defense.

"The defendant had an opportunity to walk away from the confrontation," Bennett said.

A violent past

Ledford Sr.'s attorney, Bernays, countered and said a drunk and violent Ledford Jr. started the confrontation with his father, who is stricken with a lame hand.

Bernays described Ledford Jr. as an abusive alcoholic and pointed out a DUI arrest in 2002 in which Ledford Jr. attacked an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer who pulled him over.

In that case, Ledford Jr. attempted to take the officer's gun and threatened repeatedly to kill him. After he was arrested, Ledford Jr. admitted to the officer that he would have felt bad for the officer's children if he had had his gun in his vehicle because he would have killed the officer.

A blood sample from Ledford Jr. taken the night of the incident showed a blood-alcohol content of .16, enough to be charged with extreme DUI.

Additionally, two handguns were found inside his truck, and numerous rifles and shotguns were located inside the residence.

Ledford Sr. addressed the court on his own behalf and said he loved his son and was hurt by the tragedy the same as Ledford Jr.'s mother and the rest of the family.

"If I could take this away, I would," Ledford Sr. said. "He was my son, and I loved him."

After hearing hours of testimony and poring over more than 100 letters from friends and family members, Graham County Superior Court Judge R. Douglas Holt found four mitigators and three aggravators. He gave more weight to the aggravators, however, and sentenced Ledford Sr. to the maximum sentence allowed by the plea agreement of eight years in prison. The sentence structure allowed Holt to sentence between a mitigated sentence of four years to a presumptive sentence of six years and the maximum aggravated sentence of eight years.  

Ledford Sr. was given 761 days credit for time served and is eligible for one day off his sentence for every seven served. That means he has less than five more years to serve before he is released from prison.

Bernays said while he was disappointed the court didn't feel the mitigation called for a lighter sentence, he was grateful the sides were able to come to a plea agreement.

"There were high stakes on either side," Bernays said. "He could have walked after a trial – I think the evidence of justification was pretty compelling – or, wrong jury, wrong day, bad job by me; he could have gotten 22 years."

Bennett echoed Bernays' sentiments over the settlement and praised Holt for his sentence.

"This is ultimately just a true tragedy for everyone involved, not only the defendant who had his life altered forever, but the victim and especially the kids who lost their dad," Bennett said. "I think, under the circumstances, it's a very fair sentence, and I'm glad the judge did what he did."

Judge Holt said while the amount of time Ledford Sr. will be spending incarcerated is minimal for a homicide, it was not the end-all of his ultimate punishment or vindication.

"I'm not the final judge," Holt said. "I'm the temporary, intermediate, temporal, mortal judge asked to impose a sanction or consequence for behavior here. But at the end of the day, I'm very certain we all believe in absolute mercy and justice at the hands of an all-knowing God who understands all the facts."

(4) comments

Sam Haralson
Sam Haralson

I would like to say at least something for my friend DJ.

We grew up together, even though a few years apart. He lived down the street from me with his grandparents. I remember him idolizing his father at a young age, even though I never recalled meeting his dad. We had some great times as kids growing up in Hillcrest though, building forts, hunting, riding bikes and atv's. From what I knew of DJ, he never got into a fight unless he was pushed. It had been a long time since we had last seen each other, but the last time I saw him he was with his son at Az Heat wrestling practice in about 2007 or 08 before I moved to Sierra Vista.

This brings back a memory of, oh, I would say around 2002 out at the sand dunes. I wasn't there when the initial fight happened, but I remember some other guys saying some racists comments and the next thing I heard was him calling out to me because he had gotten jumped. I never knew DJ to be a violent person just to be violent, it had to be someone else pushing him to it. That's why I really don't believe his dad's side of the story to much, I think he (his dad) went there looking for a fight and that's what he got.

I miss my bud almost every day, as I'm sure his children & the rest of his family do. I think the sentence his father got was deserved, but not quite enough to satisfy me.


I "CANT" believe he only got 8 years and 85% to do in prison! It must be nice when you can pay 2 Attorneys to fight for you in court and only get that little of time and be outa prison.... i see it as if sound home wants to kill some one they just make sure they have good money to pay there way out and make sure its in safford,az. or globe,az. i have a friend in safford that he got busted for dealing drugs and they same judge gave him 10 years without 85% and he didnt kill no one!!! my uncle got 5 years with out 85% for d.u.i and they last time i was in court for fighting the judge told me when i get one more charge for fighting i get "NO LESS" then 18 long years in prison!!!( once again not for killing someone!!! ) WOW!!! and his low life father ONLY GETS 8 YEARS and 85% at that??? i guess he must be like "OJ" kill some one and pay big money and walk away...LOL...

Assistant Editor Jon Johnson


The judge sentenced Ledford Sr. to the maximum sentence he could. The plea agreement was handled by the attorneys involved. Ledford Sr. had two attorneys because he was found to be indigent and had an attorney appointed to his case because he could not afford one on his own. The second attorney was hired and paid for by a family member and not by Ledford Sr. That is why the state had to keep the first attorney on the case. As his attorney Michael Bernays said Ledford Sr. could have skated the charges entirely or ended up with a much longer sentence if both sides didn't come to an agreement and the case went to trial. As for what he was convicted for, negligent homicide – a class-four felony – the sentence of eight years is more than what most people receive for the same charge. But, as prosecutor L. Scott Bennett said, the case was truly a tragedy for everyone involved and my deepest sentiments goes out to all who was and remains effected by the senseless death. It was obvious from the state of the courtroom that "DJ" has a lot of friends and family that miss him dearly.


Hi Jon Johnson, yes I understand some things u speak of "BUT" the truth is Ledford sr. Killed his first son and new what he was doing !And if he was trying to get D.J. off of him self then why didnt he stab him once and run away? No marks was on him as if D.J. was hurting him to show that D.J. was over powering him? The judge agreed about DJ being bigger, younger, stronger and he could understand Ledford Sr. fearing for his life. However, if Ledford Sr. Knew as he stated that DJ was a drunk, violent and had weapons then why did he attempt to be at the trailer not outside with officers, but inside the trailer as a landlord should never do, he entered and waited inside the trailer for DJ. Arizona laws insist that no Landlord or acting landlord may enter premises with out a ten day notice and without filing with the courts, and especially not doing so in the middle of the night. Ledford vilolated those laws that never were brouight out in court. It was as if Ledford never was a landlord in which he stated to the police why he was in Safford in the first place. Why? Did that not come out in court? And why didn't DJ shoot with the weapons he had with him or in the home? Because in truth DJ was not violent and had no intentions to kill his dad, especially in front of his own children what father would do that?? The court should have given him manslaughter not negligent homicide which that was pleaded down, and should never have happened. In the first place if the police had records on DJ wanting to pull a gun on the officers during a stop, then why did'nt he get charged for it? How can any information that was never filed in courts or charges be brought up be allowed to be used on any person? Its like it never happened. Why was the history of guns on DJ's part used in this case? He never fired a shot at anyone, and his own grandfather Ledford's dad was the one who insisted that DJ go hunting and he taught him about guns and how to hunt, from a very young age again not DJ's fault it was hie grandparents. He lived with his grandparents and not with his father who brought bad light on DJ for the guns in his home. Guess one thing is truth, as per the Judge had stated that Ledford will have to answer to the ultimate judge in the end and when that happens no attorny, no monies, no prayers will help!! THE REAL JUSTICE WILL HAVE BEEN SERVED THEN! (IN THE HANDS OF THE FATHER IN HEAVEN)

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