President Bush has approved the execution of a former Army private "convicted of a spree of rapes and murders in North Carolina in the 1980s."
The soldier, Ronald A. Gray, committed the crimes in the Fayetteville area while stationed at Fort Bragg. Gray has been on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for 20 years. ...Yes, but the president can also grant clemency, ranging from pardon to commutation.
In the military justice system, a member of the Armed Forces cannot be executed until the President “approves” the death sentence. Thus, unlike the civilian context, where the President may be asked to exercise his clemency authority to stop an execution, in the military system, the President effectively orders the execution. This is an important distinction.
I was present at Gray's court-martial. I was serving at the time as chief of media relations for Fort Bragg and XVIII Airborne Corps. Gray brutally murdered four women and raped eight, including the four he killed. One of the women, I recall, was a taxi driver from neighboring Fayetteville, whose body was found on the Ft. Bragg reservation. That gave the Army jurisdiction even though she was a civilian.
There was, as you may imagine, intense media interest in the proceedings. The courtroom where Gray was tried on the base was limited in spectator capacity, so we formed a media pool to cover the trial.
The panel (jury in civilian speak) was comprised of four officers and four noncommissioned officers. When an enlisted soldier is tried, s/he has the right to request that up to half the panel consist of other enlisted members.
The president of the panel, or jury foreman, was a colonel. The panel's deliberations, while not lengthy, were not brief, either. In the end it convicted Gray of all counts. For the sentencing phase, the trial counsel (prosecutor) gave a point-by-point summary of the crimes and why they deserved the death sentence. The defense counsel, unable to argue Gray's innocence any longer, gave an impassioned plea to spare Gray's life. But death Gray got.
Unlike civil courts, in the miltary-justice system unanimous votes of the panel are required to convict when the offense is a capital offense and the court-martial is convened with the authority to adjudge the death penalty. Furthermore, the sentence of death must be a unanimous vote of the panel. (Crimes for which the death sentence is authorized by law do not have to be tried in a death-enabled court. The general officer convening the court may withhold authority to sentence the death penalty.)
And importantly, a military panel may not take a straw vote. There is only one vote, and it is for record. There is no limit on deliberations, but there may be only one vote. Had Gray received only one "not guilty" vote on the panel, he would have been acquitted (each charge is voted individually, though). And had only seven of the panel agreed to the death sentence on the panel's single vote to sentence, Gray could not have received it.
No record of how individual panelists voted is retained. No one on the panel may be in the chain of command of anyone else on the panel. It is forbidden by Army regulations even to mention court-martial duty in an officer's or NCO's fitness reports. Promotion boards never know whether a candidate for promotion has served on a court (and frankly, wouldn't care anyway).
I was in the courtroom for the trial and sentencing. When the panel announced the death sentence, Gray blinked a couple of times and that was all. The military judge confirmed the sentence. Along with it Gray was dishonorably discharged from the Army and sentenced to total forfeiture of all pay and allowances from that day forward.
What I don't understand is why it has taken 20 years for the case just to land on the president's desk.