The Posthumous Pardon of Joe Arridy

January 10 2011, 10:00 AM

Outgoing Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has issued another flurry of pardons and commutations, including one for Joe Arridy, a man with an IQ of 46 who was put to death in the state's gas chamber in 1939. I documented the story of Arridy, a 23-year-old mentally retarded man who had helpfully confessed to a grisly murder in Pueblo, for 5280 back in 2008.

Ritter pointed to the overwhelming body of evidence indicating Arridy was innocent, not in Pueblo at the time of the slaying, and that his confessions were false and coerced. "Granting a posthumous pardon is an extraordinary remedy," the governor says in a statement. "But the tragic conviction of Mr. Arridy and his subsequent execution on January 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."

The request for Arridy’s pardon came from attorney David A. Martinez, who researched the case for years. Denver native Robert Perske—an advocate for mentally retarded people accused of crimes and author of 1995's Deadly Innocence?, a book that made the case for Arridy's inculpability—praises Martinez for his work. "This case teaches me that if you face a tough situation and give up too quickly, you may miss out on a fantastic conclusion," Perske writes in an email to me this morning.

In all, Ritter has approved 28 pardons and commutations, including four for juveniles who were tried as adults when they committed their crimes, notes The Denver Post. Back in 1988, Charles E. Limbrick Jr. was just 15 when he shot and killed his mother, Betty. Now incarcerated at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City, he teaches music to other inmates, writes 9News. Garry Izor received a sentence reduction from Ritter, spawning anger from the sons of his victim, Eugene Willis, who was stabbed inside his Franktown liquor store in 1977. Lee Willis tells 7News he finds the governor's action "immoral."