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April 15, 2011
Joe Arridy granted posthumous pardon by Colorado Governor Ritter
On January 7, 2011 Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted a full and unconditional posthumous pardon to Joe Arridy, executed by the State of Colorado on January 6, 1939. One online blogger called his move a “no brainer.” But for the rest of us it was an incredibly bold and compassionate act, one that we didn’t take for granted. For this was the first time in Colorado history that a Governor had granted a pardon after the execution.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter
We also didn’t take for granted that a bold and compassionate lawyer, David Martinez, took on the task of petitioning for the pardon, carrying on the legacy that my Grandfather, Gail L. Ireland began in the 1930’s when he received an unprecedented number of stays of execution for the mentally disabled boy, Joe Arridy. It was obvious to Ireland then, as it is to Martinez and Governor Ritter now, that Arridy was innocent of the violent rape and murder of a 15 year old Pueblo girl.
Governor Ritter wrote in his press release, “Granting a posthumous pardon is an extraordinary remedy. But the tragic conviction of Mr. Arridy and his subsequent execution on Jan. 6, 1939, merit such relief based on the 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 his trial 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.”
Joe Arridy’s friends now are not so different from his friends then, and there were many of them. Governor Ritter said, “This posthumous pardon is not being viewed soley through the lenses of 2011 norms. Numerous people at the time found it unconscionable that Mr. Arridy was sentenced to death. Gail Ireland, who went on to become the Colorado Attorney General, agreed to represent Mr. Arridy pro bono after his conviction. Throughout his representation of Mr. Arridy, Mr. Ireland obtained at that time an unprecedented number of stays of his execution from the Colorado Supreme Court – all by 4-3 votes.”
Those “numerous” people seemed to include not only Gail Ireland and his fellow advocates, but apparently at least 3 justices of the Colorado Supreme Court, and the voters of Colorado who booted out the sitting Governor just a few days after he denied Joe’s final stay of execution and Joe was executed. And when they elected Gail Ireland as Attorney General a year later, I think the voters seemed pretty sure that Gail had been right about Joe Arridy.
This time, Joe’s supporters were equipped with email and internet sites that we used to great advantage, and messages and documents flew around the country to each other as we conspired to get Governor Ritter’s attention. Attorney David Martinez gathered up all of our affidavits and letters to the Governor, and researched the case until 400 pages were assembled and presented to the Governor. We all waited nervously for weeks, even as we watched the Governor pardon living convicts, thinking our case was a lost cause (at least I did.) But suddenly, and with much dramatic flair, the pardon was announced. I could hardly believe it. Something that my Grandfather, Gail Ireland had cared so much about, had come to pass. Although he couldn’t save Joe’s life, he somehow knew what would happen 72 years later. After Joe was gassed, Gail said, “One murder doesn’t right another, and someday people will realize that a child instead of a man was executed.”