January 24, 1992
Rickey Ray Rector is executed for the murder of a police officer

On March 22, 1981, Rector and a group of friends visited a dance hall in Conway, Arkansas. An argument soon broke out regarding the hall’s $3 admission charge and Rector drew his .38 caliber pistol before firing randomly. Three men were hit — two were injured while Arthur Criswell (33) was fatally struck in his forehead and throat.

Rector fled from the scene and remained at large for two days before contacting his mother and sister, who both urged him to surrender. Rector agreed under the condition the arresting officer be Bob Martin who was a friend of the Rector family. Officer Martin arrived at Rector’s mother’s house and spoke briefly with Rector’s mother and sister before Rector entered the room and fatally shot Martin. He then left the house, placed the gun to his own head, and fired.

The self-inflicted gunshot wound caused extensive damage to Rector’s frontal lobe and doctors had to remove approximately ⅓ of his brain during surgery. The result was likened to a lobotomy. A psychologist reported Rector had “a near-total inability to conceptualize beyond a response to immediate sensations or provocations” and “seemed unable to grasp either the concept of past or future.”

Rector was given separate trials for the killings, and was found competent to stand trial in both. He was given a life sentence for Criswell’s killing and the death sentence for Martin’s. When the Court sentenced Rector to death by electrocution, he reportedly paused and asked, “Does this mean I’ll get a television in my cell now?”

Rector’s defense attempted to appeal his death sentence on the grounds of his diminished mental capacity, and tried to have him declared legally insane as well. The defense called various inmates who testified Rector would often “howl” or laugh uncontrollably, was terrified to leave his cell, and consciously subdued his symptoms around guards and officers out of fear of drawing their attention and anger. Rector’s sister reported he told her of “serpents slithering across his bunk, alligators and chickens set loose by the guards, and people shining spotlights into his cell.” Additionally, when he was informed his mother had died, Rector responded, “She is?” then asked “When’s dinner?” When taken to the funeral home to view his mother’s body, Rector began to laugh and said, “Yeah, that’s her all right, she’s dead.”

“The person you see here and the person that I see, it looks like Ricky,” Rector’s sister said. “He talks like Ricky, he has some characteristics of Ricky. But the real Ricky Ray Rector was destroyed when he shot himself with the gun. This person is just not my brother.”

Part of Rector’s final meal request included a pecan pie which he did not eat. When asked about the pie, he explained to a guard that he was “saving it for later.”

Rector’s lethal injection was delayed for 50 minutes as technicians attempted to find a suitable vein, and witnesses reported hearing 8 distinct moans of pain during the process. He was pronounced dead at 10:09 p.m., 54 minutes after the procedure began.

Rector’s case was the focus of debate regarding the ethicality of executing an inmate with cognitive impairments. Two decades later, the U.S. Supreme Court found executions of those with intellectual disabilities to be cruel and unusual punishment.

Bright, Stephen B. Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty & Disadvantage. Yale Law School. https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/campuspress.yale.edu/dist/2/115/files/2014/12/Class-1-Part-1-Rector-q7tpo2.pdf
“Rickey Ray Rector (Execution of). Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Accessed: January 24, 2021. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/rickey-ray-rector-6860/
Janos, Adam. “Rickey Ray Rector, The Death Row Inmate Who Lobotomized Himself.” A&E. May 12, 2020. Accessed: January 24, 2021. https://www.aetv.com/real-crime/rickey-ray-rector-killer-who-lobotomized-himself
Robinson, Nathan J. “The Death of Ricky Ray Rector.” Jacobin Magazine. November 5, 2016. Accessed: January 24, 2021. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/bill-clinton-rickey-rector-death-penalty-execution-crime-racism/
Capatides, Christina. “Last meals of death row inmates.” CBS News. November 2, 2015. Accessed: January 24, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/last-meals-of-death-row/4/
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 (8th Cir. 1991). Archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/923/570/127863/
Ricky Ray RECTOR v. ARKANSAS. 466 U.S. 988. 104 S.Ct. 2370. 80 L.Ed.2d 842. Ricky Ray RECTOR v. ARKANSAS. No. 83-6080. Supreme Court of the United States. May 14, 1984. Archived: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/466/988

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