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Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Military Execution Since 1961 Scheduled For Next Month

It appears the military will execute PVT Ronald Gray next month at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. See:

I know nothing about the case except for what I’ve read, so I won’t provide any opinions about the merits of the case against PVT Gray. Certainly, the allegations he was convicted of are grisly. Those who support the death penalty would point to that as justification for the “ultimate penalty.”

The problem I see with the death penalty is not the theory, so much as the practice. I know the criminal justice system makes mistakes. That is not an issue for debate. I know that innocent people have been convicted of crimes. That is not an issue for debate either. Just go to the Innocence Project website for example:

As of today, 225 people who were convicted and jailed have been exonerated by the work of the Innocence Project. Those are just the people lucky enough to have had their cases accepted by the Innocence Project and evidence that could be disproven by modern science. There is no telling how many other innocent people are imprisoned in our nation’s jails.

If innocent people can be wrongly convicted and jailed in America, innocent people can be wrongly convicted and executed in America. Therein lies the problem.

According to Amnesty International:

“In 2006, 91 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the USA.”

“Ten countries since 1990 are known to have executed 58 prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime – Afghanistan (extra-judicially by the Taliban), China, Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, USA and Yemen.”

We (the USA) are certainly keeping dubious company in our death penalty club.

Please see more information on the death penalty at:

What is my brush with the issue? I had a military enlisted client who was accused of raping and attempting to murder (by decapitation) the wife of a fellow military member. Even though the victim miraculously lived, the gruesome and violent nature of the crime caused the prosecution to consider attempting to proceed with the case as capital (death penalty authorized). Thankfully, they chose not to do this. However, their consideration of the issue appeared in the local paper, much to the shock of my client’s parents.

There were significant problems with the identification of my client in the case. There were significant problems with the evidence in the case, including the fact that the forensic evidence that was collected did not match my client. Still, the prosecution proceeded through the preliminary hearing (Article 32 hearing). After a week of testimony, we were able to point out enough problems with the prosecution’s case that the investigation was re-opened.

The result of the re-opened investigation? The true perpetrator of the crime was discovered. The forensic evidence matched him, he confessed, and he was convicted at court-martial and sentenced to life in prison. My client was exonerated. However, just some minor changes in how the case proceeded against my client might have resulted in my innocent client sharing “real estate” with PVT Gray on the military’s death row.

Just some food for thought…

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, PC

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank Spinner and I (attorney Richard Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens & The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation. Military defense law offices are located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Military defense law practices are worldwide.

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