On this date in 1992 Ricky Ray Rector was executed. Rector was severely mentally handicapped due to an attempted suicide that left him effectively lobotomized.
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.”
Enter the 1992 Presidential Elections, Bill Clinton’s campaign on the ropes in New Hampshire, as well as Clinton’s need to look tough and “not pull a Dukakis” on the issue of the death penalty. 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.
David Elliott guest posting at Executed Today has more.