John Edward Swindler

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John Edward Swindler (c. 1944 – June 18, 1990) was executed at the age of 46 by the State of Arkansas for the September 24, 1976, murder of Patrolman Randy Basnett, age 30.

The murder[edit]

John Edward Swindler shot and killed Patrolman Randy Basnett in the afternoon of September 24, 1976. Officer Basnett had stopped at a service station at the Kelly Highway exit in Fort Smith, Arkansas, when Swindler also stopped there in a stolen car with a South Carolina license plate. Swindler was returning to Leavenworth, Kansas to settle some personal grudges that had arisen when he had been imprisoned there. Passing the I-540 exit on I-40 near Van Buren, Arkansas, the illiterate Swindler became confused and exited, driving across the Arkansas River and into Fort Smith. That morning, Basnett had been briefed to be on the lookout for Swindler, who was the suspect in the double murders of teenagers Gregory L. Becknell and Dorothy Ann Rhodes in South Carolina and other felonies in Georgia and South Carolina. The briefing contained information about Swindler's description, the car he was thought to be driving, and the fact that he was considered to be armed and dangerous. After he noted Swindler and the stolen car, Basnett radioed dispatchers that Swindler was at the service station. Back-up officers were immediately dispatched to his location.

Before additional help arrived, officer Basnett approached Swindler's car and asked for identification. Without warning, Swindler pulled a revolver and shot Basnett twice in the chest. Basnett, who was standing beside the car, returned fire before collapsing, slightly wounding Swindler. Swindler attempted to flee, but being unfamiliar with Fort Smith, took a road that trailed off into a dead end in a soybean field on the Arkansas River. He was captured there within minutes by police officers who had answered Basnett's call. When officers arrested Swindler, he had several weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his possession.

Officer Randy Basnett died in the ambulance on the way to Sparks Regional Medical Center.


A legislative act in 1983 made lethal injection the only method of execution in Arkansas. However, inmates who had been sentenced to death before the legislation was adopted were allowed to choose between lethal injection and electrocution. When Charles Laverne Singleton chose lethal injection, John Edward Swindler earned the distinction of being the last inmate to die in Arkansas' electric chair.

Swindler refused to choose between lethal injection and the electric chair, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction. By not choosing, Swindler effectively selected electrocution. Warden David White said Swindler might have wanted the notoriety of being the last Arkansas inmate to die in the electric chair. His was also the only execution in the new electric chair constructed by the state in the 1970s.

Swindler was the first person executed by the state of Arkansas since Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), after new capital punishment laws were passed in Arkansas and that came into force on March 23, 1973.

After the Swindler execution, electrocution was made available to inmates who chose it. Further legislation stipulated that electrocution is authorized, but only if lethal injection is found unconstitutional.

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