Joe Arridy's pardon came 73 years too late.
“The correction of silence is what kills; when you know you have transgressed, and your friend says nothing and avoids your eye.”
___ Robert Louis Stevenson, 1882
“No man can justly censure or condemn another, because indeed no man truly knows another.” __ Sir Thomas Browne, 1642
But condemn, we did, all those years ago.
“Just before he was executed and Colorado State Penitentiary in 1939, 23-year-old Joe Arridy was playing with a toy train and had a smile on his face,” wrote Peter Marcus in a recent Denver Daily News article. “His last three meal requests: ice cream, ice cream and more ice cream. It has been documented that when Arridy stepped into the gas chamber, he was still grinning like a little boy.”
In one of his last official acts, Gov. Bill Ritter pardoned Joe Arridy, 73 years after the state killed the man with an I.Q. of only 46.
“Granting a posthumous pardon is an extraordinary remedy,” according to a statement by the Governor's office. “But the tragic conviction of Mr. Arridy and his subsequent execution on Jan. 6, 1939, merit such relief based on great likelihood that Mr. Arridy was, in fact, innocent of the crime for which he was executed, and his severe mental disability at the time of the trail and execution. Pardoning Mr. Arridy cannot undo this tragic event in Colorado history. It is in the interests of justice and simple decency, however, to restore his good name.”
Someone entered the Pueblo home of the Drain family in 1936 and attacked 15-year-old Dorothy and 12-year-old Barbara Drain with a hatchet. Dorothy was killed but her sister Barbara survived.
Several days later, investigators arrested 35-year old Frank Aguilar for the terrible crime.
The Drain girl's father Riley Drain, had fired Aguilar from a Works Progress Administration job. They found a large hatchet with nicks that matched the injured girl's wounds.
At the same time however, railroad detectives picked up Joe Arridy as he wandered around the Cheyenne rail yard. Laramie County Sheriff George Carroll found out that man was missing from the Colorado State Home for Mental Defectives at Grand Junction and also knew of the homicide in Pueblo.
According to Robert Perske, a former minister who wrote the 1995 book “Deadly Innocence?” about the case, “Carroll claimed Joe confessed to beating Dorothy with a club … He said he admitted to killing and raping the girl, so the sheriff called the news people and the chief of police in Pueblo.”
Perske recently told AOLnews reporter David Lohr that “Carroll felt he was not worth anything,” and “(Carroll) wanted claim to fame, and this was his chance.”
Other things pointed to Arridy's innocence according to Governor Bill Ritter.
“False and coerced confessions, the likelihood that Arridy was not in Pueblo at the time of the killing, and admission of guilt by someone else,” just to name a few.
Aguilar, when tried in December of 1936 admitted to killing Dorothy Drain and told his attorney that Arridy had nothing to do with it, according to Perske's research. Aguilar was later executed for the crime.
Arridy's trial went on anyway in April 1937 and using his alleged confession to Carroll and testimony from the Sheriff, Arridy was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Arridy was awarded nine stays of execution and became the fast friend of the Warden Roy Best at the Colorado State Penitentiary before his “luck” ran out.
“The chaplain had to give him the last rights of a child,” according to Perske account. “They recited the Lord's prayer two words at a time, all the way through. Afterward, as they were walking up Woodpecker Hill, where the chamber was, Joe was talking to the warden about how he was going to be playing a harp now. He was smiling all the way up. It was kind of like he was going on a hike or something.”
“When they put him in the chair, he was still smiling… When they started to put the black hood over Joe's face, he stopped smiling, so the warden patted him on the arm a couple of times. The priest stayed with him for a bit and then walked out with the warden. Both had tears in their eyes. Then the door closed, and he was executed.”