Billary and the long shadow of Rickey Ray

The Clintons revealed the extent of their ambition when they let a retarded man go to his death in 1992, says Charles Laurence

News LAST UPDATED AT 00:00 ON Sun 30 Dec 2007

On the evening of January 24, 1992, Rickey Ray Rector had to take a short walk. He asked if he could save for later the slice of pecan pie that came with his dinner.

He never made it back for dessert. His short walk was down Death Row to the execution chamber. After a struggle to find a vein, Rector, a 42-year-old who had murdered a veteran cop and a passer-by in a convenience store robbery, died from the lethal injection that had replaced the electric chair in the state of Arkansas.

Arkansas is significant. Rector died to help make Bill Clinton the 42nd President of the United States.

Clinton was then the state governor who signed the execution warrants. He signed away Rector's life in the full knowledge that this was a black man with an IQ of 70, brain-damaged by a bullet fired in a suicide attempt, so dim-witted that he thought he could save his pecan pie for later.

Clinton could have commuted the sentence. But his political instinct told him that this execution was just what he needed. It fell a few days before the New Hampshire primary, the early round of the '92 campaign that catapulted the then unknown young governor into contention.

He had just survived the first of his 'bimbo eruptions', saved by his damp-eyed confession of 'mistakes' in his marriage. But Clinton knew that it was crime not sex that had derailed Massachusetts governor George Dukakis, the last Democrat to challenge the Republican hold on the White House. George Bush Senior's attack dog Lee Atwater had come up with the now-legendary story of Willie Horton, the scary-looking rapist who killed a girl after Dukakis set him free on parole. Dukakis was left dead in the water.

Clinton had to shake-off the perception of being 'soft on crime'. He insisted that Democrats "should no longer feel guilty about protecting the innocent", declared himself ardently pro-capital punishment, and gathered his press bandwagon to do his lethal duty under the spotlight.

There are those who say that topping Rickey Ray Rector was the turning point in the Clinton campaign. And there are those of us who have never forgiven him. Rector's death remains the yardstick of ambition, the proof that Clinton really would stop at nothing to win an election.

Many Americans see 'Billary' as the most promising option to dig America out of the mess made by Dubya Bush. But we should remember Rickey Ray Rector in the coming election year, for the dreadful stain of his death falls on Hillary Clinton too. Back in 1992 she did absolutely nothing to stay the executioner's hand. She was with her husband all the way. · 

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