Every service member knows the result of not living up to the expectations placed upon them by donning the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. Most will never receive a punishment beyond Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishment. For repeat offenders, the threat of “turning big rocks into little rocks” at Fort Leavenworth looms large.
Actually being sent to the Kansas-based U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth is, in reality, a tall order. The facility houses only the worst offenders. It’s the only maximum-security facility in the U.S. military and hard time there is reserved for commissioned officers, enlisted personnel with sentences longer than ten years, and those who are convicted of crimes related to national security. It’s reserved for the worst of the worst — which includes those on the military’s death row.
Since the end of World War II, the facility has executed some 21 prisoners, including more than a dozen Nazi German prisoners of war convicted of war crimes. The last time an American troop was executed for his crimes was in 1961, when Army Pfc. John Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of a young Austrian girl after spending six years on death row. There are currently four inmates awaiting execution at Leavenworth, but these four will not face the gallows.
Executions for military personnel will likely be by lethal injection and performed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In 1986 and 1987, then-Specialist Ronald Gray was a cook stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he committed the series of crimes that landed him on the military’s death row. Gray raped and murdered four women, both on Fort Bragg and in the area around nearby Fayetteville. He was sentenced to death in 1988 and his execution was approved by President George W. Bush in 2008. He has since filed a petition to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was turned down, meaning Gray might soon be the first prisoner executed by the military in over 50 years.
His first victim was 27-year-old civilian Linda Jean Coats and his second was also a civilian, 18-year-old Tammy Cofer Wilson. He next turned his attention to female soldiers, abducting, raping, and murdering 18-year-old Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay. Vickery-Clay’s body was discovered a block from her home on Fort Bragg. He then raped and attempted to kill 20-year-old Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth, stabbing her in the throat after entering her barracks room, but leaving her alive. She was able to identify him as her attacker when Gray was arrested for another crime.
Just three days later, he raped and murdered another civilian, 23-year-old Kimberly Ann Ruggles. It was this crime that would lead to his capture and conviction. Ruggles was a taxi driver dispatched to pick up a “Ron” at Gray’s address. Her body was discovered later that night near her empty cab. Police identified the gag on Ruggles’ body as one belonging to Gray after holding him for another crime just hours before. Gray’s fingerprints were all over the cab and Ruggles’ prints were on money Gray was holding during his arrest.
Gray was tried and convicted in both civil and military courts in 1988. Civilian courts sentenced Gray to eight consecutive life sentences. His military court martial sentenced him to die. He is currently the longest-serving death-row inmate at Fort Leavenworth.
In March, 2003, just days after U.S. troops initially crossed into Iraq, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was at Camp Pennsylvania, a rear-staging area for the invasion of Iraq, located in Kuwait. In the early morning hours, Akbar lobbed fragmentation and incendiary grenades into the tents of sleeping officers, then assaulted other members of his unit with his issued M-4 rifle. He killed Army Capt. Christopher Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone. and wounded 14 other service members.
Even though his defense team cited repeated attacks and insults on his Muslim faith from fellow soldiers as a primary motivator for the attack, it was later discovered that Akbar decided to plan and execute the attack once he was in Kuwait, writing in a journal on Feb 4, 2003:
“As soon as I am in Iraq, I am going to try and kill as many of them as possible.”
Hasan was convicted of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps affirmed the death sentence and an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is pending.
In 1985, a mother and two of her children were found murdered in their Fayetteville, N.C. home. Kathryn Eastburn was stabbed to death with two of her three daughters while her husband, an airman, was training in Alabama. The family was getting ready to move away from the country and put an ad in the paper to sell their dog. Timothy Hennis was a Fort Bragg soldier who admitted to police he responded to the ad. An eyewitness identified Hennis as a man who left the Eastburn home in the early morning hours after the killings would have taken place.
Hennis was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in North Carolina civilian courts but that verdict was later overturned and Hennis was acquitted in a retrial. As a free man, Hennis returned to the Army and retired as a Master Sergeant in 2004. But the Army wasn’t done with the Hennis case. Semen samples taken from Kathryn Eastburn’s body were analyzed as DNA evidence that wasn’t available in the original case.
The Army again charged Hennis with the crime, this time framing the evidence to the matching DNA samples. In 2010, A military court finally found Hennis guilty of the crimes, stripped him of rank and pay, and sentenced him to death.
Also known as “The Fort Hood Shooter” Hasan was an Army officer, a psychiatrist stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. On Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Center, pulled a handgun, and, for 10 minutes, began shooting at the personnel there. He killed 13 people and injured another 30 before being shot himself by Fort Hood’s Army Civilian Police. The gunfight rendered Hasan paralyzed from the waist down.
The Army charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, with the Army announcing early on that Hasan was eligible for the death penalty and that the Army would seek that sentence. Hasan defended himself at the trial and in doing so was found guilty of all charges. He was unanimously sentenced to Fort Leavenworth to await execution.