Citing "brutal crimes," President Bush on Monday authorized the execution of an Army private convicted of a spree of rapes and murders in North Carolina in the 1980s.
It was the first time a commander in chief has affirmed a military death sentence since 1957, half a century ago.
The solider, Ronald A. Gray, committed the crimes in the Fayetteville area while stationed at Fort Bragg.
Gray has been on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for 20 years.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said in a statement on Monday evening:
"President Bush this morning accepted the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army to approve a sentence of death for Army Private Ronald A. Gray, affirming the sentence that resulted from a general court martial for multiple charges of murder and rape committed while serving as a member of the Armed Services. While approving a sentence of death for a member of our Armed Services is a serious and difficult decision for a Commander-in-Chief, the President believes the facts of this case leave no doubt that the sentence is just and warranted. Private Gray was convicted of committing brutal crimes, including two murders, an attempted murder, and three rapes. The victims included a civilian and two members of the Army. Because additional legal challenges are expected in this case, we will decline to comment further. The President's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these heinous crimes and their families and all others affected."
Here's a White House backgrounder on the issue:
The military death penalty
- In the military justice system, a member of the Armed Forces cannot be executed until the President "approves" the death sentence. Thus, unlike the civilian context, where the President may be asked to exercise his clemency authority to stop an execution, in the military system, the President effectively orders the execution. This is an important distinction.
- This is very rare. The last President to act on a military death sentence was John F. Kennedy in 1962, when he commuted a death sentence to confinement for life. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the last military execution in 1957; it was carried out in 1961.
- In accordance with the UCMJ, the Secretary of the Army submitted a formal recommendation to the President recommending he approve the sentence.
Facts of this case
Army Private Ronald A. Gray engaged in a spree of four murders and eight rapes in the Fayetteville, North Carolina, area between April 1986 and January 1987.
- Gray pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes (in addition to other offenses) in North Carolina State court; he was sentenced to three consecutive, and five concurrent, life terms.
- Gray was then tried by general court-martial at Fort Bragg (82d Airborne Division) for separate offenses involving three women, two of whom served in the U.S. Army, one of whom was a civilian.
- In April 1988, the court-martial convicted Gray of premeditated murder (two specifications) and unanimously sentenced him to death. Since then, his sentence has been approved by his command, the Army Court of Military Review, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The Supreme Court has denied certiorari.
- In accordance with the UCMJ, the Secretary of the Army recommended the President approve the sentence.