President Bush on Monday approved the execution of an Army private, the first time in more than 50 years that a president has affirmed a death sentence for a member of the U.S. military.
With his signature from the Oval Office, Bush said yes to the military's request to execute Ronald A. Gray, the White House confirmed. Gray had been convicted in connection with four murders and eight rapes in the Fayetteville, N.C., area over eight months in the late 1980s while he was stationed at Ft. Bragg.
"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," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.
In the military courts, "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. . . . The president's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these heinous crimes and their families and all others affected."
Unlike in the civilian courts, a member of the U.S. armed forces cannot be executed until the president approves the death sentence. Gray has been on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., since April 1988.
Members of the U.S. military have been executed throughout history, but just 10 have been executed by presidential approval since 1951, when the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's modern-day legal system, was enacted into law.
In 1957, President Eisenhower was the last president to approve a military execution -- that of John Bennett, an Army private convicted of raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. He was hanged in 1961.
Gray was held responsible for crimes committed between April 1986 and January 1987 in both the civilian and military justice systems.
Bush's decision is unlikely to end Gray's legal battle. Further litigation is expected.