WINTER GARDEN — Winter Garden resident Edward Bowman has experienced quite a bit in his 71 years. He’s been thrown out of the back of a pickup — twice — and lived to tell about it. He’s run for Winter Garden mayor and has staged so many protests that he has a company on standby to create his sandwich boards. He has raised nine children and outlived two wives.
And soon, he hopes he will finally see his daughter’s convicted killer put to death.
Kimberly Ann Bowman Ruggles was working as a taxi driver in January 1987 near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when she was brutally raped and murdered. She was found naked in a wooded area; she had been raped and stabbed. Her cab was later found nearby.
Ruggles, 23, a mother of three, was the fourth victim of serial killer and former U.S. Army Pvt. Ronald A. Gray, who was stationed at Fort Bragg.
A military court sentenced Gray to death in 1988, and since then, he has remained on death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. President George W. Bush approved Gray’s execution in July 2008, making Gray the first service member sentenced to death since President Dwight D. Eisenhower did the same in 1957.
Despite this approval — and much to Bowman’s dismay — Gray has remained on death row through a lengthy appeals process. In April, Bowman flew to Kansas and was in the courtroom for Gray’s final appeal.
It was the first time he had been in the same room as his daughter’s killer.
“That was the first time I got to see him; I hadn’t even seen him on TV,” Bowman said. “I didn’t know what he looked like until I saw his picture. I wanted to walk up to him and slap him and ask him what he’d do with a real man and not a little girl.”
Bowman said after the hearing, the judge approached him and the parents of another one of Gray’s victims.
“He came up from the bench and thanked every one of us for our determination,” Bowman said.
The judge told them he would examine every point raised and expects to have a decision in September. Bowman said he hopes that decision will bring closure to a crime that has haunted him for decades.
Bowman thought he would get that closure more than six years ago, when the Army scheduled Gray’s execution for Dec. 10, 2008.
“They had made (travel) arrangements for me and everything,” Bowman said.
Then, two weeks before that date, a federal judge granted a stay of execution to allow for further appeals.
The case had remained stagnant until this most recent hearing.
“At least I know something is going on — that it’s not dead in the water,” Bowman said of the last hearing. “I want to live long enough to see him die.
“We’ve gone through all the appeals,” he said. “They (Gray and his defense attorneys) are like a drowning rat in a sinking ship.”
And if the judge rules against the death penalty?
“At least the grandkids can know he’s in solitary confinement, tormented every day until he dies,” Bowman said. “I’d love to see him die the same way he killed, but if he (gets life), then he’ll be in a 6-foot-by-10-foot cell for 23 hours a day. And if that’s the case, I hope he lives to be 114.”
Gray was 21 at the time of his arrest.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].