By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
February 06, 2006
Bush became the first president since John Kennedy to be faced with that choice when, after years of review, the military recently delivered to the White House recommendations that two convicted multiple murderers be executed for the crimes they committed while in the service.
If Bush signs the warrants, the two convicts - former Army Spec. Ronald Gray, who has been held for 18 years on death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Pfc. Dwight Loving, who has been there for 17 years - would still have an avenue of appeal through the federal courts before an execution date would be set.
Even so, the arrival of the warrants at the White House brings into sight what would be the first military execution since 1961.
In that case, former Army Pvt. John Bennett, 28, of Chatham, Va., was hanged at Fort Leavenworth for the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl in Austria while he was stationed in Germany.
In another possible indication of preparations for an execution, the Army issued regulations Jan. 17 updating its procedures for carrying one out.
Gray, 40, a Miami native and Army cook, was convicted of sexually abusing, beating and fatally knifing a prostitute; raping and shooting to death a female college student; killing a female Army private; and raping several other women in the Fayetteville, N.C., area in 1986 while he was stationed at Fort Bragg.
Loving, 37, a former artillery gunner from Rochester, N.Y., was found guilty of the 1988 fatal shooting of two taxi drivers in Killeen, Texas, as well as the robbery of a convenience store near Fort Hood, where he was stationed. One of the cabbies was an Army private, the other a retired Army sergeant.
In Loving's case, acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee approved his death sentence Nov. 8, 2004, and the death recommendation was delivered to the White House on Jan. 23, said Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman.
Brownlee endorsed the death penalty for Gray on Nov. 15, 2004, and it arrived at the White House Sept. 1.
In all, seven ex-service members now sit on the military's death row - three former Army soldiers, three former Marines and one Air Force airman.
Among them is ex-Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who took his place among the condemned last May, after being convicted of killing two fellow soldiers and attempting to murder 16 others in a rifle-and-grenade attack on his own camp in Kuwait at the start of the war in Iraq.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the military's legal system, only the commander in chief can sign a death order. Presidents also have the option of granting clemency. The military code provides death as a possible punishment for 15 crimes, including murder, rape and espionage in peacetime, and disobedience and desertion during war.
Bennett, the last military convict to die, was the 135th soldier executed by the Army since 1916. In all, about 465 military members have been put to death since the Civil War. Most were deserters or mutineers during wartime, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death-penalty advocacy group.
It was unclear Thursday if the White House would conduct its own review of the two men who could be the next to join that list. A request for comment was not immediately answered.
Both Gray and Loving lost their first round of Supreme Court appeals in 2001. If Bush signs their warrants, they will have the right to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, as well.
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