WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush approved the execution of an army soldier on death row for murder and rape, in the first such move by a US president in more than 50 years.
Army private Ronald A. Gray was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988 by a military court, which in the United States requires the president's signature of approval in order to go ahead.
Bush Monday granted the army's formal request that he approve the sentence by signing an order from the Oval Office, the White House said.
"President Bush this morning accepted the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army to approve a sentence of death for army private Ronald A. Gray, affirming the sentence that resulted from a general court martial for multiple charges of murder and rape committed while serving as a member of the armed services," press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.
"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," she said.
"Private Gray was convicted of committing brutal crimes, including two murders, an attempted murder, and three rapes. The victims included a civilian and two members of the army."
Perino said the White House anticipated further appeals in the case and would not comment further.
The last US president to approve a military execution was president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957. That prisoner was put to death in 1961.
The most recent president to act on a military request for approval of a death sentence was John F. Kennedy, who in 1962 commuted a death sentence to life imprisonment, the White House said.
Gray pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes and was sentenced to three consecutive life terms by a North Carolina state court.
Later, he was tried by a military court martial at Fort Bragg for separate crimes including the rape and murder of two women, and the rape and attempted murder of a third.
He was convicted of raping, sodomizing and murdering army private Laura Lee Vickery-Clay, who was shot four times and found with blunt force trauma over much of her body.
The military court also convicted him of murdering a civilian taxi driver, Kimberly Ann Ruggles, who was found on the army base after being raped, sodomized, stabbed and beaten to death.
The third victim, army private Mary Ann Lang Nameth, was raped and robbed in her barracks by Gray, who attempted to murder her by stabbing her multiple times in the neck and side, the court martial found.
The court martial issued a unanimous decision in 1988 to sentence Gray to death for premeditated murder.
It was not clear when the sentence would be carried out.
"Because additional legal challenges are expected in this case, we will decline to comment further," Perino said.
"The President's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these heinous crimes and their families and all others affected."
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