Ricky Ray Rector
Ricky Ray Rector was executed for the 1981 murder of police officer Robert Martin in Conway, Arkansas
Conway, Arkansas
Conway is the county seat of Faulkner County, Arkansas, United States. The population was 58,908 at the 2010 census, making Conway the seventh most populous city in Arkansas. It is a principal city of the Little Rock–North Little Rock–Conway Metropolitan Statistical Area which had...


After killing a man in a nightclub, he later first agreed to turn himself in, but instead shot the police officer who negotiated his surrender in the back. He then shot himself in the head in an apparent suicide attempt. The attempt effectively resulted in a lobotomy
Lobotomy "; τομή – tomē: "cut/slice") is a neurosurgical procedure, a form of psychosurgery, also known as a leukotomy or leucotomy . It consists of cutting the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain...

, and left him therefore unable to understand the criminal charges against him or his resulting death sentence
Death Sentence
Death Sentence is a short story by the American science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and reprinted in the 1972 collection The Early Asimov.-Plot summary:...


Despite Rector's mental state, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 made a point of overseeing Rector's execution during the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign.

Murders and trial

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 caliber pistol from his waist band. He fired several shots, wounding two and killing a third man. The third man, Arthur Criswell, died almost instantly 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, whom he had known since he was a child.
Officer Martin arrived at Rector’s mother’s home shortly after 3 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, Ricky Ray Rector drew 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
Frontal lobe
The frontal lobe is an area in the brain of humans and other mammals, located at the front of each cerebral hemisphere and positioned anterior to the parietal lobe and superior and anterior to the temporal lobes...


Rector survived the surgery and was put on trial for the murders of Criswell and Martin. His defense attorneys argued that Rector was intellectually impaired and not competent to stand trial. However, 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.


Rector was subject to a unique overlap of controversies in 1992 during his execution in Arkansas. A question of the morality of killing someone who was functionally retarded
Mental retardation
Mental retardation is a generalized disorder appearing before adulthood, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors...

. An oft-cited example of his mental insufficiency is his decision to save the dessert
In cultures around the world, dessert is a course that typically comes at the end of a meal, usually consisting of sweet food. The word comes from the French language as dessert and this from Old French desservir, "to clear the table" and "to serve." Common Western desserts include cakes, biscuits,...

 from his last meal for after his execution. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 banned the execution of people with mental retardation in Atkins v. Virginia
Atkins v. Virginia
Atkins v. Virginia, , is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 6-3 that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.-The case:...

, ruling that the practice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it inflicts on the condemned person...


Last meal and execution

Rector seemed incapable of understanding his pending death sentence. For his last meal, he left the pecan pie
Pecan pie
Pecan pie is a sweet pie made primarily of corn syrup and pecan nuts. It is popularly served at holiday meals and is also considered a specialty of Southern U.S. cuisine. Most pecan pie recipes include salt and vanilla as flavorings. Chocolate and bourbon whiskey are other popular additions to the...

 on the side of the tray, telling the guards who came to take him to the execution chamber that he was saving it "for later".

Rector was executed by lethal injection
Lethal injection
Lethal injection is the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs for the express purpose of causing the immediate death of the subject. The main application for this procedure is capital punishment, but the term may also be applied in a broad sense to euthanasia and suicide...

. It took medical staff, with Rector’s help, more than fifty minutes to find a suitable vein. The curtain remained closed between Rector and the witnesses, but some reported they could hear Rector moaning. The administrator of the State Department of Corrections Medical Program said “the moans did come as a team of two medical people that had grown to five worked on both sides of his body to find a vein. That may have contributed to his occasional outbursts.” The state later attributed the difficulty in finding a suitable vein to Rector’s heavy weight and to his use of an antipsychotic
An antipsychotic is a tranquilizing psychiatric medication primarily used to manage psychosis , particularly in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A first generation of antipsychotics, known as typical antipsychotics, was discovered in the 1950s...



Rector was the third person executed by the state of Arkansas since Furman v. Georgia
Furman v. Georgia
Furman v. Georgia, was a United States Supreme Court decision that ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. The case led to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment throughout the United States, which came to an end when Gregg v. Georgia was...

, , after new capital punishment laws were passed in Arkansas and that came into force on March 23, 1973.

Role in 1992 presidential campaign

By 1992, Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 was insisting that Democrats "should no longer feel guilty about protecting the innocent" and took a position strongly supporting capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

. To make his point, he flew home to Arkansas mid-campaign to affirm that the execution would continue as scheduled. Some pundits considered it a turning point in that race, hardening a soft public image. Others tend to cite the execution as an example of what they perceive to be Clinton's opportunism
-General definition:Opportunism is the conscious policy and practice of taking selfish advantage of circumstances, with little regard for principles. Opportunist actions are expedient actions guided primarily by self-interested motives. The term can be applied to individuals, groups,...

, directly influenced by Michael Dukakis
Michael Dukakis
Michael Stanley Dukakis served as the 65th and 67th Governor of Massachusetts from 1975–1979 and from 1983–1991, and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. He was born to Greek immigrants in Brookline, Massachusetts, also the birthplace of John F. Kennedy, and was the longest serving...

 and his response to CNN
Cable News Network is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States...

's Bernard Shaw
Bernard Shaw (journalist)
Bernard Shaw is a retired American journalist and former news anchor for CNN from 1980 until his retirement in March 2001.-Early years:...

 when asked during a campaign debate on October 13, 1988 if he would be supportive of the death penalty were his wife to be raped and murdered. Dukakis responded that he would not.

Bill Clinton's critics from the anti-capital punishment sector have seen the case of Rector as an unpleasant example of what they view as Clinton's cynical careerism. The writer Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

, in particular, devotes much of a chapter of his book on Clinton, No One Left to Lie To, for what he regards as the immorality of the then Democratic candidate's decision to condone, and take political advantage of, Rector's execution. Hitchens argues that among other calculations, Clinton was attempting to change the subject from the ongoing Gennifer Flowers
Gennifer Flowers
Gennifer Flowers is a model and actress who allegedly had a sexual relationship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Prior to Bill Clinton's presidency, she also posed nude for Penthouse magazine and was an actress in two films and one TV show...

sex scandal.
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