The nation’s highest court may soon decide the fate of one of Fayetteville’s most infamous criminals.
Ronald A. Gray, a former-Fort Bragg soldier and convicted serial killer, has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to answer several legal questions still hanging over his case.
Gray, who committed a series of murders and rapes in Fayetteville and on Fort Bragg in the 1980s, is the longest-serving inmate on the military’s death row.
He is also the only military prisoner whose execution has been approved by a president.
Lawyers for Gray filed their petition to the Supreme Court in February 2018. Lawyers for the U.S. government have a March 19, 2018 deadline to respond, according to the court.
At issue is which court system — military or civil — is responsible for hearing appeals Gray has filed since 2008, when then-President George W. Bush approved Gray’s eventual execution.
Timothy Kaine, Gray’s lawyer, wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court that Gray’s appeals have been delayed by a “nearly decade-long contest of hot potato between military and civil courts.”
Numerous appeals were dismissed or delayed in recent years as the courts struggled over how to handle Gray’s appeals.
During that time, 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.
In recent years, the case has been heard by officials from a 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 Gray’s petition, Kaine wrote that the military and civil courts have repeatedly declined to review his client’s claims “in the vain hope that the other court system would do so.”
The “litigation ping pong” has resulted in a system in which convicted enemy combatants have a clearer system in which to appeal their cases than do many military prisoners, Kaine said.
The latest appeals are part of a nearly 30-year legal battle related to Gray’s crimes, which the Supreme Court 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, potentially clearing the way for the Army to schedule Gray’s death.
A former resident of Fairlane Acres 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 Fairlane Acres Mobile Home Park off Santa Fe Drive.
Gray killed cab driver Kimberly Ann Ruggles, Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay, Campbell University student Linda Jean Coats and Fairlane Acres resident and soldier’s wife Tammy Wilson.
Gray was convicted during two trials. A Fort Bragg court sentenced him to death in 1988, after convicting him of 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 a number of other offenses all related to different victims.
Gray has been confined at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 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.