1992: Ricky Ray Rector, “a date which ought to live in infamy for the Democratic Party”

(Thanks to David Elliot at Abolish the Death Penalty for the guest post -ed.)

The strange case of Ricky Ray Rector, executed by the state of Arkansas on Jan. 24, 1992, is what many observers of the death penalty system in the U.S. might call a trifecta.

First, Rector was African American. Of course, African Americans are disproportionately represented on death rows in the U.S., compared with their representation in the general U.S. population.

Second, Rector was severely mentally impaired. More about that in a couple of paragraphs.

Third, Rector suffered from a botched execution. It took a team of five executioners 50 minutes to find a suitable vein in which to inject the lethal cocktail. During this time, witnesses heard continued moaning from the inmate. (The process of repeatedly jabbing an inmate with a needle, over and over and over again, might not seem as torturous as, say, garroting or drawing and quartering. But it can hardly be described as painless.)

Now, on with the story.

According to Wikipedia, on March 21, 1981, Rector and some friends drove to a dance hall at Tommy’s Old-Fashioned Home-Style Restaurant in Conway. When one of Rector’s friends was refused entry after being unable to pay the three dollar cover charge, Rector became incensed and pulled a .38 pistol from his waist band. He fired several shots, wounding two and killing a third man. The third man, Arthur Criswell, died almost instantaneously after being struck in the throat and forehead. Rector left the scene of the murder in a friend’s car and wandered the city for three days, alternately staying in the woods or with relatives. On March 24, Rector’s sister convinced him to turn himself in. Rector agreed to surrender only to Officer Robert Martin, who he had known since he was a child.

Officer Martin arrived at Rector’s mother’s home shortly after three p.m. and began chatting with Rector’s mother and sister. Shortly thereafter, Rector arrived and greeted Officer Martin. As Officer Martin turned away to continue his conversation with Mrs. Rector, Rickey pulled his pistol from behind his back and fired two shots into Officer Martin, striking him in the jaw and neck. Rector then turned and walked out of the house. Once he had walked past his mother’s backyard, Rector put his gun to his own temple and fired. Rector was quickly discovered by other police officers and was rushed to the local hospital. The shot had destroyed Rector’s frontal lobe, resulting in what was essentially a self-lobotomy.

Rector survived the surgery and was put on trial for the murders of Criswell and Martin. His defense attorneys argued that Rector was not competent to stand trial, but after hearing conflicting testimony from several experts who had evaluated Rector, Judge George F. Hartje ruled that Rector was competent to stand trial. Rector was convicted on both counts and sentenced to death.

When Rector’s execution day approached, he was given the standard last meal. For dessert, he was offered a slice of pecan pie, which he moved to the window sill of his holding cell. When asked why he was not eating his pie, he remarked that he was “saving it” for “after the execution.”

If there had been any doubt that Rector did not understand his impending fate, that sealed it. His execution proceeded nonetheless – this was, after all, Arkansas in the early 1990s.

If that were the end of the story, we probably would not be writing about Rector today. (Then again, given the nature of this blog, maybe we would.)

But, completely unbeknownst to him, Rector would enter the annals of American presidential politics.

Back in 1988, at one time, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis enjoyed a huge advantage in the polls over the Republican nominee, George H. W. Bush. Why he lost that lead is probably the focal point of another blog somewhere, but one reason is certainly due to The Question.

The Question came during a presidential debate between Bush and Dukakis when CNN Anchor Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis what his view on the death penalty would be if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered. To this day, pundits remember Dukakis’ tepid, emotionless and altogether inadequate response.

Enter Bill Clinton, 1992 presidential candidate. Clinton interrupted campaigning in New Hampshire to fly home to preside over the execution of the mentally challenged Rector. (Such an act was not necessary legally – the execution could well have proceeded without the governor’s presence in the state. But Clinton wanted to prove that he was a “new” Democrat, tough on crime.)

History has not treated Clinton kindly for this calculated and callous act of political opportunism. In 2002, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

A date which ought to live in infamy for the Democratic Party is Jan. 24, 1992. That’s the day Ricky Ray Rector was executed in Arkansas while Gov. Bill Clinton stood by and did nothing. On that day in Arkansas, the Democratic Party also died. Its body is still with us, to be sure, but its heart and soul died 10 years ago.

There’s evidence this could be changing. Although no major Democratic candidate (sorry, Dennis) has come out against the death penalty, the fact of the matter is the death penalty, at least in Democratic circles, has lost its saliency as a political issue.

And that, at least, is a baby step.

On this day..

40 thoughts on “1992: Ricky Ray Rector, “a date which ought to live in infamy for the Democratic Party”

  1. To learn about how to really grow your trump network business, read below and click
    on the link for more information. She allegedly ‘treated
    people like garbage,” one example being to fire on the spot a secretary daring to use the Helmsley Palace dry cleaner to remove an accidental spill on her clothing, even though she had worked diligently for eight years. Find reasons to support you one way or another, and you will be right, but others have done what you are wanting to do before.

  2. Boil Broil Pickel and Trickel not tickle. That is the just fate of all those who follow in the foot steps of Marie Antoinette. No need to be the official Queen just to act like one should get one impaled on a pike or unevenly split on the guillotine. Thomas Paine was right in trying to save the king from retribution but not the kings wife who was clearly guilty not only of treason in time of war, but of betraying a progressive, for the time, revolution.

  3. Pingback: Robert Ladd and Ricky Ray Rector | the EMPIRICIST has no CLOTHES

  4. Law guy:

    It’s true, someone spouting these figures might be racist, but racism has nothing to do with stats. Actually, blacks make up around 13% of the population, but they do commit around 50% of all violent crimes. Most of these crimes are against other blacks. It;s a very real and very distressing to the majority of black people living in the inner city.

    In my view, it has to do with the breakdown of the traditional black family. I know a lot about this, and it is a terrible situation indeed

    .And no, I am not racist. The blacks I know feel as I do.

    Perhaps this will change in the future; I certainly hope so.

    • Sorry, but your comment mark you as both ignorant AND a racist. You arent the one that gets to make the determination of your racism, that is for external observers to judge.

      My guess is you are a Trump voter to boot.

      Have a great day!

  5. The lame old “death row is disproportionately black” canard.

    Never mentioned by the people spewing that nonsense, is that a disproportionate percentage — a WILDLY DISPROPORTIONATE percentage — of murderers in the US are black.

    Blacks make up 12% of the population of the United States, but commit over 50% of the murders every year.

    If anything, blacks are under-represented on death row.

  6. I am not seeing the issue with this trash being dead. He killed multiple people before he had his frontal lobe destroyed so he didn’t do it before becoming stupid (er). And to use a defense of “it’s wrong to execute the mentally handicapped” well I think that logic go’s out the window when they got that way from shooting themselves , right after putting two in a pig. This one was better left with his daddy blowing that loaded on his mothers tit’s.

  7. No he was not retarded before he got shot and furthermore he did NOT shoot himself. Conway Police Department shot him. I wish the family was not cowards and would of told the truth about the shooting that occured that day.

  8. “cunningly used his retardation”

    Perhaps the most idiotic phrase ever uttered in the English language.

    RIP, Ricky. End the death penalty now, and forever! Everywhere!

  9. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Executioner-in-Chief: a tour of U.S. Presidents and the death penalty

  10. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Themed Set: The Medical Gaze

  11. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1960: Caryl Chessman

  12. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s First Annual Report: One Year of Dying Languorously

  13. Rector was a murderer, who shot AN INNOCENT policeman,
    in the course of doing his duty.
    Rector knew the bullet he shot into himself would not kill him, and cunningly used his retardation to avoid the Death Penalty.
    Sorry, brother, but it don’t work that way.
    You shoot a person, you gonna diefor it.

  14. I got as far as the words “According to Wikipedia” before deciding to abandon the reliability of anything on this website.

  15. Yep….. a guy kills for the “sport of it” and liberals decry his conviction ’cause he wasn’t mentally competent. Of course I would have accepted a”trade”, the Governor in place of the prisoner…………………… I wonder how BIll would have answered the question if it was Hilary not Kitty……………………..

  16. The punishment was for an act that preceded the supposed limited mental capacity. I’m sure if you asked the families of the officer and the victims in the night club if they would still shoot the guy who shot their family member (considering he was mentally handicapped all of a sudden), they would probalby say yes. I’m not necessarily for the death penalty but I see nothing wrong with what happened in this case. Let’s feel bad for the self induced handicapped individual…. don’t think so. R.I.H. murderer.

  17. Obama must be nominated ! The Republicans are waiting for Hilary………..the Peter Paul Scandal will land her in jail !

  18. The first indication that the Clintons will do anything to get elected. I’ve despised them ever since, and their behavior has simply justified my feelings about them.

  19. …debate between Bush and Dukakis when CNN Anchor Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis what his view on the death penalty would be if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered. To this day, pundits remember Dukakis’ tepid, emotionless and altogether inadequate response.

    What kind of moronic question is it? He might have as well asked: “If there was a perpetrator threatening to kill your parents, would you take it up your ass to save them?” Jeeze… talking about sophisticated political discourse and the influences of the “fourth branch of power”.

  20. It’s an utter disgrace, he was obviously mentally impaired.I cried when I read about it at the time.

    • Save your tears for the families of the two innocent men this monster murdered.

Comments are closed.