Race to Death: A Critical Look at the Death Penalty as Arkansas Executes Eight

The state of Arkansas plans to execute eight people across ten days this April. Arkansas will attempt to execute two people per day on four days in order to use up their stock of execution drug, midazolam, before its expiration date.

Until now, Arkansas's mark in death penalty history was its execution of Rickey Ray Rector: a man so unable to comprehend his surroundings that he ate his final meal and saved his slice of pecan pie for later. Rector had shot himself in the head after committing his crime, but survived. Legally, the state may not execute a person who does not understand they are about to die. Yet the courts ducked the issue, and another famous Arkansas Governor—Bill Clinton—made sure to be present for Rector's execution even while campaigning for the presidency in 1992.

Has the death penalty changed since Rector was executed? Yes. As noted by the Death Penalty Information Center, the use of capital punishment is the lowest it has been since Rector's execution twenty-five years ago.

States can no longer execute someone who is mentally handicapped. Teenagers cannot be sentenced to death. And approximately 1 in 10 people on death row is innocent, if we look at the death row exonerations since 1973.

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