U.S. President George W. Bush became the first American president in 51 years to approve the execution of a soldier on Monday.

Administration officials said Bush signed the paperwork approving the military's request to execute an army private who has been on death row since 1988, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. military personnel cannot be executed without the president's approval.

Ronald A. Gray, now 42, was convicted in connection with four murders and eight rapes in the Fayetteville, N.C., area during an eight-month period in the late 1980s, while he was stationed at Fort Bragg.

Only 10 members of the U.S. military 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 Dwight Eisenhower was the last U.S. leader to authorize a military execution. In 1957, he approved the hanging of John Bennett, an army private convicted of raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl.

Bush is the first American president to be faced with such a decision in more than 46 years. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy decided to commute the death sentence of Jimmie Henderson, a Navy seaman, to confinement for life.

Death sentences imposed by court-martial

Gray was first tried by a civilian court in North Carolina and pleaded guilty to two murders and five rapes. He was sentenced to three consecutive and five concurrent life terms.

He was then tried by a general court-martial at Fort Bragg. In April 1988, the court-martial convicted him of two murders, an attempted murder and three rapes. He was unanimously sentenced to death.

Gray has unsuccessfully appealed his case through the military justice system. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Bush received a recommendation in late 2005 from the secretary of the army to approve Gray's execution. Since then, it's been under review by the administration, including White House legal counsel.

Gray has been on death row at the U.S. disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since April 1998.

It's not clear where the death sentence will be carried out. Military executions are handled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The military has also asked Bush to authorize the execution of army private Dwight J. Loving, who has been at Fort Leavenworth since 1989. He was convicted of killing two taxicab drivers while he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

The White House declined to discuss that case.

With files from the Associated Press