Federal judge stays Army execution

TOPEKA | A federal judge in Kansas has issued a stay in what would be the Army’s first execution since 1961.

U.S. District Judge Richard Rogers issued the order Nov. 26 in the case of Ronald A. Gray, who was scheduled to die Dec. 10 for murders and rapes in the 1980s. Rogers has not set a date to hear Gray’s case.

Attorneys for the Justice Department filed documents Tuesday asking Rogers to reconsider his stay order, saying Gray had ample time to file his request for appeal before requesting a stay of execution.

President George W. Bush signed the order in July for Gray’s execution. The date and location — a federal complex in Terre Haute, Ind. — was approved in August by Army Secretary Pete Geren.

Gray, 43, is held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. He was convicted in a spree of four murders and eight rapes in the Fayetteville, N.C., area between April 1986 and January 1987 while he was stationed at Fort Bragg.

Thomas Bath, an attorney for Gray, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

In a filing seeking the stay, Bath noted that it took seven years from the time the U.S. Supreme Court denied Gray’s request for review until Bush signed the execution order, starting the clock for further appeals.

Only 10 members of the military have been executed since 1951 when the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military’s modern-day legal system, was enacted.

President Dwight Eisenhower was the last president to approve a military execution, for John Bennet, who was hanged in 1961 for raping and trying to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. On Feb. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy commuted the death sentence of Jimmy Henderson, a Navy seaman, to confinement for life.

Gray was convicted by a six-member court-martial panel for:

— Raping and killing Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay of Fayetteville on Dec. 15, 1986. She was shot four times with a .22-caliber pistol that Gray confessed to stealing. She also suffered blunt force trauma over much of her body.

— Raping and killing Kimberly Ann Ruggles, a civilian cab driver in Fayetteville. She was bound, gagged, stabbed repeatedly and had bruises and lacerations on her face. Her body was found on the base.

— Raping, robbing and attempting to kill an Army private in her barracks at Fort Bragg on Jan. 3, 1987. She testified against Gray during the court-martial and identified him as her assailant. Gray raped her and stabbed her several times in the neck and side, and she suffered a laceration of the trachea and a collapsed or punctured lung.

Gray has appealed his case through the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (then known as the U.S. Army Court of Military Review) and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services. In 2001, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Along with Gray, two soldiers, one Marine and one Air Force airman are under sentence of death.