Tuesday, July 29, 2008
WASHINGTON — President Bush on Monday approved the first execution by the military since 1961, upholding the death penalty of an Army private convicted of a series of rapes and murders more than two decades ago.
As commander in chief, the president has the final authority to approve capital punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he did so on Monday morning in the case of Pvt. Ronald A. Gray, convicted by court-martial for two killings and an attempted murder at Fort Bragg, N.C., the White House said in a statement.
Although the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty in the military in 1996, no one has been executed since President Ronald Reagan reinstated capital punishment in 1984 for military crimes.
The last military execution was ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, although it was not carried out by hanging until 1961. President John F. Kennedy was the last president to face the question, in 1962, but commuted the sentence to life in prison.
“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,” the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said in a statement after the decision was first reported by The Associated Press. “Private Gray was convicted of committing brutal crimes, including two murders, an attempted murder and three rapes.”
Mr. Bush, a supporter of the death penalty, approved the sentence after Private Gray’s case wound its way through the Army’s legal bureaucracy and the military’s courts of appeal. The secretary of the Army sought Mr. Bush’s final approval.
There are six people on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. but Private Gray was the first whose sentence went to the president. Unlike in the civilian courts, where the president can overturn or commute a sentence, in the military system, he is required effectively to approve it.
It can still be appealed, which the White House suggested was all but certain, meaning an execution is not expected to occur soon, possibly not during Mr. Bush’s remaining months in office. [Mark Godsey]