President Bush could have commuted the death sentence of Ronald A. Gray, a former Army cook convicted of multiple rapes and murders.
But Bush decided Monday that Gray's crimes were so repugnant that execution was the only just punishment.
Bush's decision marked the first time in 51 years that a president has affirmed a death sentence for a member of the U.S. military. It was the first time in 46 years that such a decision has even been weighed in the Oval Office.
Gray, 42, was convicted in connection with 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. He has been on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since April 1988.
"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," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
"The president's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these heinous crimes and their families and all others affected," she said.
Bush's decision, however, is not likely the end of Gray's legal battle. Further litigation is expected and these types of death sentence appeals often take years to resolve. It also remains unclear where Gray would be executed. Military executions are handled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.Members of the U.S. military have been executed throughout history, but just 10 have been executed by presidential approval since 1951, when the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's modern-day legal system, was enacted into law.
President Kennedy was the last president to stare down this life-or-death decision. On Feb. 12, 1962, Kennedy commuted the death sentence of Jimmie Henderson, a Navy seaman, to confinement for life.
President Eisenhower was the last president to approve a military execution. In 1957, he approved the execution of John Bennett, an Army private convicted of raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. He was hanged in 1961.