Joe Arridy (1915 – 1939) was a mentally disabled 23-year-old who was falsely accused of rape and murder of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Pueblo, Colorado. He was put to death on 6 January 1939. Arridy was officially pardoned in 2011 (72 years after his death) as evidence proved he was coerced into confession. The evidence was provided by then Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a former district attorney, after research had shown that Arridy was likely not in Pueblo when the crime happened and had been coerced into confessing.
Arrest and conviction
On August 26, 1936, Arridy was arrested in Cheyenne, Wyoming, after being caught wandering around the railyards. The arrest threw Arridy in a large ongoing investigation into the rape and murder of a Pueblo schoolgirl. Arridy caught the attention of the sheriff in charge, George Carroll, when Arridy revealed that he had come through Pueblo by way of a train while on the run from Grand Junction, Colorado. Prior to notification by the sheriff in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Pueblo had already arrested Frank Aguilar as the prime suspect when Sheriff George Carroll contacted the sheriff in Pueblo and claimed that Arridy told him several times he had “been with a man named Frank” at the crime scene. Joe gave several versions of the murder in multiple confessions-the first was that a club was used in the murder. This later changed when the authorities found an axe at the scene and he later testified in interviews that he used an axe. When the case was finally brought to trial his lawyer didn’t try to fight the allegations and instead sought reprieve through a plea of insanity. Arridy was convicted even though there was a lack of hard evidence which included the sisters’ testimony that Frank Aguilar had been present and not Arridy and the determination he was an “imbecile” with an IQ score of 46 by three state psychiatrists who agreed that Arridy was “incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and therefore, would be unable to perform any action with a criminal intent.”
Arridy was known for spending his time on death row playing with a toy train, given to him by prison warden Roy Best, who called Arridy “the happiest prisoner on death row.” He was liked by both the prisoners and guards. His execution was commented on by warden Roy Best “He probably didn’t even know he was about to die, all he did was happily sit and play with a toy train I had given him.” He received nine stays of execution while the man that was arrested before him, Frank Aguilar, was executed nearly two years earlier. For his last meal, he requested ice cream. When questioned about his impending execution he showed “blank bewilderment” and it was clear that he didn’t realize the meaning of the gas chamber, telling the warden “No, no, Joe won’t die.” He was reported to have smiled while being taken to the gas chamber and was only momentarily nervous until the warden grabbed his hand and reassured him.