WASHINGTON (CN) – President Bush approved the death sentence of Pvt. Ronald Gray, the first execution by the military since 1961. The former Army cook was convicted by court-martial of two murders and an attempted murder, among other offenses, while serving at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the mid-1980s.
Gray had been charged with four counts of murder and eight counts of rape, and pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes in North Carolina state court.
In a separate proceeding, a court-martial panel convicted him of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and a slew of other charges, including rape, forcible sodomy and robbery.
An appeals court for the Armed Services rejected Gray’s appeal in 1999, and Bush approved his death sentence on Monday under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“While approving a sentence of death for a member of our armed forces 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 a statement.
The last military execution was ordered by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957, and was carried out by hanging in 1961. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the military’s use of the death penalty in 1996, but no one in the service has been executed since the Eisenhower administration. President John F. Kennedy chose to commute a death sentence to life in prison in 1962.
Currently, six people sit on military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The president has the final say whether they live or die.