On a cloudy gray morning at a hilltop of an old prison cemetery in Canyon City, Colorado a group of people gathered to remember the life of a 23 year old mentally challenged man, Joe Arridy, who was wrongfully convicted and executed for the rape and murder of a teenage girl on January 6, 1939. Though this was a solemn occasion it was also a time to rejoice for these people successfully garnered a posthumous pardon for a human being with the mentality of a mere child on January 7, 2010. Continue reading
With the stroke of a pen the honorable Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois abolished the death penalty on Wednesday March 9th 2011, revealing his incontrovertible humanitarian moxie. This was the crescendo of thousands of man hours and years of dedicated hard work to abolish the controlled murder of inmates. The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Focus and a host of other humanitarian organizations banded together to champion this noble cause and fortunately their diligence bore fruit. And I applaud their efforts.
Joe Arridy, the mentally challenged man executed for a crime he did not commit, was granted a posthumous pardon by Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado on Jan 7, 2011. With the stroke of a pen the compassionate governor righted a wrong exonerating a man who was put to death in the gas chamber at the Canyon City Territorial Prison 72 years ago. Though Little Joe has since been diseased his haunting memory lived in the hearts and souls of those who knew his innocence. The noble efforts of renowned humanitarian Robert Perske and attorney David Martinez were not in vain for Joe was vindicated of a crime he did not have the capacity to understand or commit. Perske and Martinez selflessly achieved the impossible while facing insurmountable odds in obtaining this historic pardon for a dead man. But there was another champion in my eyes who fought for Joe’s justice. He introduced me to the plight of the man/child Joe Arridy. His weapon of choice was the pen and his name is Daniel Sanchez Leonetti, author of the screenplay “Woodpecker Waltz”.
I am forwarding this call for the Governor of Colorado to pardon *Joe Arridy, 23. It was drafted by **Robert Perske, writer, journalist and humanitarian. The petition respectfully requests the governor to pardon “Little Joe” Arridy posthumously for the crimes of rape and murder of a 15 year old girl, Dorothy Drain, on August 15, 1936. Sadly, Little Joe has long since been convicted and ultimately executed at Colorado Territorial Prison, Canyon City. The arrest, trial and execution of Joe were media events likened to a carnival in darkly festive flare. Socialites flocked to make an appearance at this depression era kangaroo court.
Little Joe was locked into a pre-pubescence world since he had the mentality of a 6 year old boy, innocent even in thought. Joe was the ideal suspect and detectives took full advantage of his naivete coercing a confession almost immediately. Being of Syrian decent added fuel to the community’s frenzied scorn as well. The media poisoned public opinion against Joe across the state with fabricated sensational tales that horrified and disgusted readers. They painted Little Joe as a vial and perverted killer of little girls. Joe was a dead man walking even before he was arrested. Guilt was already assumed. He was convicted and sentence to death. Then he was executed in the gas chamber on January 6, 1939 to the joy of cheering mobs, justice was served. They say Joe was smiling when he entered the death chamber for he truly was a child and could not comprehend the concept of his own death. In the evening after Joes execution even the hardest of convicts wept because of the injustice that shrouded the day. The bittersweet irony of Joe’s dark journey was the fact three months after his execution the true killer of Dorothy Drain was arrested then confessed to the grizzly assault.