Supreme Court Case Continues Years of Appeal by Killer Ronald Gray

In this April 6, 1988, file photo, Ronald Gray leaves a courtroom escorted by military police at Fort Bragg, N.C. A Kansas federal judge has lifted a stay of execution for Gray. (Marcus Castro/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)
In this April 6, 1988, file photo, Ronald Gray leaves a courtroom escorted by military police at Fort Bragg, N.C. A Kansas federal judge has lifted a stay of execution for Gray. (Marcus Castro/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)

Government lawyers believe convicted serial killer Ronald A. Gray should seek relief in federal civilian courts but do not believe his claims have merit.

The Solicitor General filed a brief last week in opposition to a petition filed by Gray in the Supreme Court.

The brief agrees with Gray's lawyers that a military appeals court erred in stating it did not have the jurisdiction to act in an earlier appeal.

But the government lawyers argue that Gray's attempt to seek extraordinary relief through that court was inappropriate because the type of extraordinary relief he sought did not apply to his case.

The correct avenue for Gray's appeal, they argued, is federal District Court.

The Supreme Court case was docketed earlier this year and centers on the question of which courts -- military or civilian -- are responsible to hearing appeals Gray has field since 2008, when then-President George W. Bush approved Gray's eventual execution.

Gray, a former Fort Bragg soldier, was convicted of a series of murders and rapes in Fayetteville and on Fort Bragg in the 1980s.

He is the longest-serving inmate on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the only prisoner whose execution has been approved by a president -- a necessary step before any execution can take place based on a case from the military judicial system.

Friday's filing by government lawyers was the latest in long-running appeals by Gray's lawyers as they seek to overturn Gray's death sentence.

Earlier this year, Gray's lawyers argued those appeals have been delayed by a "nearly decade-long contest of hot potato between military and civil courts."

But government lawyers said in their latest brief that the path is clear for Gray and others and that federal civil courts are the primary avenue for relief of claims made outside of a direct appeal.

Gray's case has had numerous appeals dismissed or delayed in recent years. Through lawyers, Gray has sought a review of claims of constitutional error during his military trial and subsequent appeals. He has claimed that his original appeals lawyer was ineffective, that his sentence is the result of racial discrimination and that military authorities failed to disclose evidence about his competency.

Those appeals have been heard by numerous courts, including the U.S. District Court in Kansas, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

In all, Gray's initial court-martial and appeals have turned into a nearly 30-year legal battle, which the Supreme Court previously declined to review in 2001.

Appeals have taken on an added urgency since late 2016, when a federal judge removed a stay of execution that had been in place since 2008.

A former resident of Fairlane Acres mobile home park near Bonnie Doone in Fayetteville, Gray was an Army specialist working as a cook before he was convicted of a series of rapes and murders that were committed in 1986 and 1987 on Fort Bragg and near his neighborhood.

Gray killed cab driver Kimberly Ann Ruggles, Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay, Campbell University student Linda Jean Coats and Fairlane Acres resident Tammy Wilson, who was a soldier's wife.

Gray was convicted during two trials. A Fort Bragg court sentenced him to death in 1988 for the rape and murder of two women and the rape and attempted murder of a third woman, among other offenses.

A civilian court in 1987 sentenced him to eight life sentences, including three to be served consecutively, after convictions on charges of two counts of second-degree murder, five counts of rape and other offenses related to different victims.

Gray has been confined at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth since he was sentenced to death.

If he is executed, it would be the first death sentence carried out by the U.S. military since 1961. An execution would likely take place at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the same facility where, in 2001, terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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