Ricky Ray Rector

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ricky Ray Rector
Ricky Ray Rector.jpg
Born(1950-01-12)January 12, 1950
DiedJanuary 24, 1992(1992-01-24) (aged 42)
Cause of deathExecution by lethal injection
Criminal statusExecuted
Conviction(s)Capital murder
Criminal penaltyDeath
VictimsArthur Criswell
Robert Martin
DateMarch 21/24, 1981

Ricky Ray Rector (January 12, 1950 – January 24, 1992) was an American convicted murderer who was executed for the 1981 murder of police officer Robert Martin in Conway, Arkansas. After killing a man in a restaurant and fleeing, Rector spent three days on the run before he agreed to turn himself in. However, instead of giving himself up, he shot the police officer who had negotiated his surrender in the back. He then shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt. The attempt effectively resulted in a lobotomy.[1]

A 1991 request for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court was denied, with Justice Thurgood Marshall dissenting.[2] Despite Rector's mental state, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton made a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee Rector's January 24, 1992, execution during the 1992 U.S. presidential election campaign.

Murders and trial[edit]

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 friend who could not pay the $3 cover charge was refused entry, Rector became incensed and pulled a .38 caliber pistol from his waist band. He fired several shots, wounding two and killing a third man named Arthur D. Criswell, who died almost instantly after being struck in the throat and forehead.[3]

Rector left the scene of the murder in a friend's car and wandered the city for three days, staying in the woods or with relatives. On March 24, Rector's sister convinced him to turn himself in. Rector agreed to surrender, but only to Officer Robert Martin, whom he had known since he was a child.[3]

Martin arrived at Rector's mother's home shortly after 3 p.m. and chatted with Rector's mother and sister. Shortly thereafter, Rector arrived and greeted Martin. As Martin turned away to continue his conversation with Rector's mother, Rector drew his pistol from behind his back and fired two shots into Martin, striking him in the jaw and neck. Rector then turned and walked out of the house.[4][5]

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 taken to the local hospital. The shot had destroyed Rector's frontal lobe.[6]

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.[3][7][8][9]


Rector was subject to a unique overlap of controversies in 1992, during his execution in Arkansas. An oft-cited example of his mental insufficiency is his decision to save the dessert from his last meal "for later," which would have been after his execution.[10][11] In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of people with intellectual disabilities in Atkins v. Virginia, ruling that the practice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Last meal[edit]

For his last meal, Rector requested and received a steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid, and pecan pie. As noted above, Rector left the pie on the side of the tray, telling the corrections officers who came to take him to the execution chamber that he was "saving it for later."[11][12] The slice of pecan pie was not disposed of until Rector had been executed.[13]


Rector was executed by lethal injection. It took medical staff more than fifty minutes to find a suitable vein.[13] 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 great weight and to his having been administered an antipsychotic medication.

Rector was the third person executed by the state of Arkansas since Furman v. Georgia,[14] after new capital punishment laws were passed in Arkansas, which came into force on March 23, 1973.

Role in 1992 presidential campaign[edit]

By 1992, Bill Clinton was insisting that Democrats "should no longer feel guilty about protecting the innocent" and indicated his support of capital punishment.[15] To make his point, he flew home to Arkansas mid-campaign to affirm that the execution would continue as scheduled.[16] Some pundits considered it a turning point in that race, hardening a soft public image.[17] Others tend to cite the execution as an example of what they perceive to be Clinton's opportunism, directly influenced by the failed presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, who was portrayed by Republicans as soft on crime.[18]

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, 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.[12] Hitchens argues that among other actions, Clinton was attempting to deflect attention from the ongoing Gennifer Flowers sex scandal.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ricky Ray Rector, Appellant, v. Steve Clark, Attorney General, State of Arkansas; And, A.l.lockhart, Director of Arkansas Department Of correction, Appellees, 923 F.2d 570 Justia (United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit January 2, 1991).
  2. ^ RECTOR v. BRYANT 501 U.S. 1239 115 L.Ed.2d 1038 Archived 2018-07-19 at the Wayback Machine, U.S. Supreme Court, 24 June 1991. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Bright, Stephen B. "Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty & Disadvantage" (PDF). Yale Campus Press. Yale Law School. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 12, 2015. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  4. ^ "Police Officer Killed During Mission to Apprehend Suspect". The Daily Oklahoman. March 25, 1981. p. 46. Retrieved December 30, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Arkansas Policeman Slain in Shooting". The Memphis Press-Scimitar. March 25, 1981. p. 3. Retrieved December 30, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Graetz, Michael J.; Greenhouse, Linda (2016). The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right. Simon & Schuster. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-4767-3252-7. Archived from the original on 2020-03-24. Retrieved 2017-12-18.
  7. ^ Ricky Ray RECTOR, Appellant, v. STATE of Arkansas, Appellee., 277 Ark. 17, 638 S.W.2d 672 (1982) (Supreme Court of Arkansas. September 13, 1982).
  8. ^ Ricky Ray RECTOR, Appellant, v. STATE of Arkansas, Appellee., 280 Ark. 385 659 S.W.2d 168 (1983) (Supreme Court of Arkansas. October 17, 1983).
  9. ^ RICKY RAY RECTOR, PETITIONER v. A.L. "ART" LOCKHART, Director Arkansas Department of Corrections and STEVE CLARK, Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, RESPONDENTS, 727 F.Supp. 1285 (1990) (UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS, PINE BLUFF DIVISION January 3, 1990).
  10. ^ Frady, Marshall (February 22, 1993). "Death in Arkansas". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on July 28, 2017. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Grant, Patrick (2012). Imperfection. Athabasca University Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-926836-75-1. Archived from the original on 2020-03-24. Retrieved 2017-12-18.
  12. ^ a b c Hitchens, Christopher (2000). No One Left to Lie To. Verso Books. ISBN 978-1859847367.
  13. ^ a b Lusane, Clarence (1994). African Americans at the Crossroads: The Restructuring of Black Leadership and the 1992 Elections. Boston: South End Press. p. 158. Archived from the original on 2018-08-26. Retrieved 2018-08-26.[ISBN missing]
  14. ^ Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
  15. ^ Hartman, Andrew (2015). A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars. The University of Chicago Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-226-25464-7. Archived from the original on 2020-03-24. Retrieved 2017-12-18.
  16. ^ Soss, Joe; Langbein, Laura; Metelko, Alan R. (September 27, 2001). "Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?". The Journal of Politics. 65 (2): 399. doi:10.1111/1468-2508.t01-2-00006. S2CID 38112237.
  17. ^ Robinson, Nathan J. "The Death of Ricky Ray Rector". Jacobin. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  18. ^ O'Connor, Brendon (September 2002). "Policies, Principles, and Polls: Bill Clinton's Third Way Welfare Politics 1992–1996". Australian Journal of Politics & History. 48 (3): 401. doi:10.1111/1467-8497.00267. ISSN 1467-8497.
Preceded by Executions carried out in Arkansas Succeeded by
Steven Hill – 1992
Preceded by
  Mark HopkinsonWyoming – January 22, 1992  
Executions carried out in the United States Succeeded by
Johnny Frank GarrettTexas – February 11, 1992