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Bush OKs Death Sentence for Soldier Convicted of Multiple Murders

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 – President Bush this week approved the death penalty for an Army private convicted of committing multiple murders and rapes in the late 1980s on Fort Bragg, N.C.

Exercising the commander in chief’s final authority to approve capital punishment for a servicemember, Bush issued the order against Pvt. Ronald A. Gray on July 28, the first time such a presidential directive has been invoked in 51 years.

Gray faces the death penalty after being convicted of two killings, one count of attempted murder and of raping all three victims, among other crimes he was found guilty of committing while serving at Fort Bragg from April 1986 to January 1987.

“When the convening authority … reviewed those facts and circumstances, they made the determination that they were such that they wanted to authorize -- they felt it appropriate -- that a panel have [the death penalty as an] available punishment,” Army Col. Charles Pede, the chief of the Criminal Law Division of the Office of the Judge Advocate General, said in an interview at the Pentagon today.

After a president approves the death sentence, a soldier-defendant has the right to conduct a “collateral attack” on the military legal proceedings in an action known as a “habeas petition,” Pede said.

If the capital punishment ruling is upheld, Gray’s punishment will be administered via lethal injection.

Gray is one of six servicemembers on death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. His case was the first to complete a series of standard legal proceedings that includes military appeals and petitions to the Supreme Court, which then allowed for action by the president.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino characterized the president’s decision as one fraught with difficultly.

“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,” Perino said.

The last military execution was ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 and was carried out by hanging in 1961.

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