In Canon City on Saturday, for the first time a tombstone will be placed on the grave of an executed prisoner. His name is Joseph Arridy.

This Saturday, June 2, 2007, at 11 a.m. in Canon City’s Greenwood Cemetery, a dignifying tombstone will be placed on the grave of death row inmate Joe Arridy. Arridy was executed in the Canon City prison gas chamber on January 6, 1939, and buried on top of Woodpecker Hill. The tombstone, which will feature an etching of a replica of Joe’s toy train, is being placed and dedicated by a number of citizens in the Pikes Peak Region who have taken a newfound interest in Arridy’s life and death. Evidence uncovered in the past decade indicates that he was a victim of police and prosecutorial misconduct. This is the first time in the history of Colorado that a personalized tombstone will be placed on the grave of an executed prisoner.

Arridy was mentally retarded and had the mind of a five year old. The warden gave him toys to play with.

The tough warden took Joe home on Christmas Eve of 1939 and presented him with a toy train. The toy train ran an express lane down the corridor of Death Row. A death row inmate would reach through the bars and poke the train over, and Joe would joyfully yell out: “Train wreck! Fix the wreck!” To make Joe happy, the hardened death row inmates would send the toy train back down the corridor to Joe.

When it came time for last rites, the Chaplain would only deliver the child’s version. A movie is in the works about Arridy, called The Woodpecker’s Waltz.

[T]he movie will celebrate the efforts of those who tried to save him, and focus attention anew on the terrible and irretractable mistakes that occur under the death penalty system in the United States and worldwide.

[Cross-posted at TalkLeft. com]