ORLANDO, Fla. — Edward Bowman fears he won't live to see his daughter's killer executed.
The Winter Garden man, 71, has waited 26 years for the U.S. military to carry out a 1988 death sentence handed to Ronald Gray, the soldier who raped and murdered Kimberly Ann Bowman Ruggles, one of four killings the court-martialed Army specialist either admitted to or was convicted of committing.
"Where is the justice?" Bowman said. "Before I leave this earth, I'd really like to see some kind of justice."
Bowman, who keeps company with a tail-less calico cat in an RV/trailer park in Winter Garden, pointed out that the three children his 23-year-old daughter left behind are now older than she was when her beaten, stabbed and naked body was found in a wooded area Jan. 7, 1987, in Fayetteville, N.C.
She was working as a taxi-cab driver near Fort Bragg, N.C., where Gray was stationed, and her last fare was a passenger named "Ron." The cab was found abandoned nearby.
A medical examiner said she had been raped and stabbed, and bled to death.
In July 2008, after all military-court appeals had been exhausted, then-President George W. Bush signed a required warrant, authorizing the death sentence and clearing the path for Gray to become the first American soldier executed by the U.S. military in more than half a century. Two weeks before the execution by lethal injection, a federal judge issued a "temporary" stay.
The case has been stuck in federal court ever since.
According to federal court documents, the most recent entry in Gray's latest appeal concerned the withdrawal of an appointed lawyer who retired last month from active military duty and could no longer represent the condemned soldier as part of the Army Defense Appellate Division.
Gray, who was 22 at the time of his crimes, remains one of just six former servicemen on military death row inside the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the military's only maximum-security prison.
Among the others is Nidal Hasan, the former Army psychiatrist and Medical Corps officer who killed 13 people during a shooting rampage in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas. He was sent to the prison after a court-martial and trial in military court last year.
Bowman pleaded last month with U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster to investigate the delay in Gray's sentence.
Webster's staff submitted a formal inquiry to the Army, which acknowledged receipt of the request but has not provided a response, said Elizabeth Tyrrell, Webster's deputy chief of staff and communications director.
An Army spokeswoman was unable to provide a comment this week about Gray's case.
The U.S. military has executed 135 men since 1916, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., but only 10 since 1951 and none since John Bennett on April 13, 1961. The Army private was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl.
While Bowman hopes to outlive Gray, his son-in-law rarely thinks about the soldier who killed his wife.
"It'd be fine with me if the guy just died right where he's at," said Michael Ruggles, 55, a truck driver living in Gilchrist County west of Gainesville. "To be honest with you, I think he should live the way he is, penned up for the rest of his sorry-ass life."
Ruggles said his children, now ages 34, 30 and 28, have moved on. The youngest was an infant at the time.
"All of my kids, damn-fine kids, I consider myself lucky as far as that goes," Ruggles said.
The eldest is a pastor in North Florida. His church is named New Beginnings.
Ruggles, who rarely speaks with his father-in-law, said he'd prefer that Bowman "just let it go."
"He's waiting to see this all settled before he dies, and I can understand that, but it's apparently never going to be," he said. "Years ago, I made up my mind about this. There's nothing I can do about it. I just don't want the man out hurting anybody else."
Lori Keith, now 40 and living Mount Dora, was present at the court-martial of her sister's killer.
Just 13 at the time and seated behind Gray, she recalled that he "smiled a lot" through the proceedings. But her mother, now deceased, urged her to forgive the soldier who had raped and killed three other women.
She said she has.
"It's not my place to say when, where or how," Keith said. "That's between the law and the Lord."