[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Monday approved the death sentence of US Army private Ronald A. Gray, marking the first time a president has approved a military execution since 1957. Gray was first tried by a civilian court for his connection to four murders and eight rapes in North Carolina in the mid-1980s. There he pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and five counts of rape, and the court sentenced him to life in prison. A court-martial panel then convicted [AP report] Gray in 1988 of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as counts of rape, forcible sodomy, and robbery, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text]. He was dishonorably discharged, demoted and sentenced to death, a military sentence that requires presidential approval under the UCMJ. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Services finally rejected Gray's appeal [opinion text] in 1999, and the US Supreme Court denied certiorari [government Supreme Court brief, PDF] in 2001. Following Bush's approval of the sentence, White House press secretary Dana Perino commented:
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.
Gray is expected to appeal the approval. AFP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.
In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled [Loving v. US opinion text] that courts-martial have the authority to impose the death sentence on members of the military and that the president may prescribe the aggravating factors that lead to such a sentence. There, a court-martial panel found a man guilty of murders in 1988, and he argued that a military death sentence by order of the president violated the separation of powers. The Supreme Court found that Congress could delegate powers to other branches of the government and that in the case of military death sentences, the president's prescription of the constitutionally required aggravating factors did not violate the separation of powers.