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The happiest man on death row
September 25, 2012 1:50 AM   Subscribe

Joe Arridy didn't ask for a last meal. It's doubtful that he even understood the concept.
An article (one page print version) in Denver Westword News by Alan Prendergast recounts the life of Joe Arridy (1915 - 1939), his conviction and execution and Robert Perske's later investigation of the case. Perske has documented many cases of innocent people with mental disabilities being coerced into confessions, and he considers the case of Joe Arridy the most telling.

Perske learned about Joe Arridy and his execution in 1992, over 50 years after the fact, by the way of a poem in an out of print book: Marguerite Young, "The Clinic." (Moderate Fable, New York, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944.) It is reproduced on the Friends of Joe Arridy web pages.

Robert Perske's book Deadly Innocence? came out in 1995 and it led to the founding of Friends of Joe Arridy, who would eventually successfully petition for Joe Arridy's innocence and result in the 41st Governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, granting him a post-humous pardon.
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. - Governor Ritter
Colorado Lawyer, Gail L. Ireland, fought a long legal battle trying to overturn Joe Arridy's conviction. His granddaughter, Terri Bradt, has written his biography. The Introduction is available on the web.

The Wikipedia page for Joe Arridy contains links to some on-line newspaper archives having stories from the time and a few more recent news articles.
posted by tykky (19 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jesus christ. I'm at work and now I need to spend the next few hours trying not to sob unconsolably.
posted by Acheman at 3:25 AM on September 25, 2012


Justice is blind, so the old saying goes. But juries can be stupid and cops have ulterior motives.

Pity the frightened little people for whom it is far more horrible that one killer go free than an innocent man be killed to make them feel safer than they really are.
posted by Goofyy at 4:13 AM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Such a sad story. You'd hope that we've moved far, far away from the place where this happened.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:43 AM on September 25, 2012


When I've thought about the ethics of executing mentally disabled people before (not often, I admit -- I am against the death penalty in general so it's not a dilemma for me, not a tough question I need to wrestle with) I've thought about it in terms of the ethics of executing someone who is guilty. Disabled people can, of course, commit crimes, but how responsible are they for their actions? We don't hold children fully accountable, though some children are more aware of the implications of their actions than some disabled people.

What this story made me realize, though, is that disabled people are at far greater risk of being among the wrongly convicted. If you don't have an understanding of what's at stake, if you are prone to saying whatever you think your interrogator wants to hear, if you can't account for your whereabouts at a specific time because you are never aware of the time, and don't have a routine or a plan on a given day... It's going to be almost impossible to defend yourself.

Quite apart from the moral implications of executing someone who may not understand the consequences of his or her actions, we really shouldn't execute anyone who is not capable of mounting a coherent self-defense, because it makes it astronomically more likely that we are executing someone who is innocent.
posted by OnceUponATime at 4:55 AM on September 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


we really shouldn't execute anyone who is not capable of mounting a coherent self-defense
The irony here is that if this were in fact the rule, then the best defense would be simply showing that you are unable to defend yourself.

But yeah, I also take a fairly anti-killing-people stance so this type of wrangling is pretty straight forward for me. Having interned in a DA's office I can say that there are people out there who actually care for other human beings... but for the most part they're simply not as effective as the large very large enormous overwhelming number of people who are only there as a stepping stone.

So between the judge, the DA, the mayor, and sometimes even the local sheriff (all of whom are elected officials, and are often in a near constant re-election cycle) sometimes the real victims of the justice system are the people who are forced to participate in it.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:16 AM on September 25, 2012


I was in Denver this past weekend and my friend handed me Westword and I was smashed by this article. Gah, I've been thinking about it since Friday. Thanks.
posted by Seamus at 6:37 AM on September 25, 2012


A Denver Post editorial likened the execution to a mercy killing: "He never could have been anywhere near a normal human. Alive, he was no good to himself and a constant menace and burden to society. The most merciful thing to do was put him out of his misery."

Humans love to dehumanize other humans.
posted by scratch at 7:18 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a bit of a derail, but I've known of Bob Perske's work since I was a kid. Back in 1988, he and his wife (an illustrator) published Circles of Friends: People with Disabilities and Their Friends Enrich the Lives of One Another. One of our family friends was included, and my dad (in one of his many guises) did a lot of work with people with developmental disabilities, so I may have actually met the Perskes at one point or another.

The story I remember the most, 24 years later, involved a teenage girl with some sort of nonverbal developmental issue. She had been included in a lot of activities by a bunch of "regular" and possibly even "popular" girls. The disabled girl had a habit of grinding her teeth, but one of her friends suggested she start chewing gum. Not only did this reduce the wear on her teeth and stop the noise, it had the additional effect of making this girl look like all of the other obnoxiously gum-smacking teenage girls around her -- in other words, she looked kind of cool.

So when you're talking about how humans love to dehumanize other humans, it's great to see the flip side of that equation: simple ways that humans can make other humans, who might seem very different from themselves, a little more alike.
posted by Madamina at 7:38 AM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's also the case of Ricky Ray Rector who evidently set aside some pecan pie from his last meal, because he thought he could save it for later. Rector was put to death during the administration of Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton so that Clinton could look tough on crime for the 1992 presidential campaign.
posted by jonp72 at 8:16 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been looking for a reference that I read online a few years ago-- as I remember it was a female researcher. This is the argument presented--

Mentally disabled people are disproportionally present on death row. In many cases, there is a dimwitted guy who tags along with a gang of brutes. The gang is inspired to commit an act of savagery, they get caught, and everybody blames it on the idiot. He cheerfully admits to everything that is suggested, and anxious to please, makes up circumstances that tighten the web around him. The brutes go free, and the retarded guy goes on death row.

I'd love to find the citation again--
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:37 AM on September 25, 2012


As the father of a developmentally disabled boy this story both saddens and terrifies me. I will never live in a state with the death penalty.
posted by MikeMc at 8:39 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't really need to be a bleeding heart to understand why the death penalty needs to be abolished. It's an irreversible punishment in a necessarily imperfect system.
posted by spaltavian at 8:44 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pity the frightened little people for whom it is far more horrible that one killer go free than an innocent man be killed to make them feel safer than they really are.

Although the odd thing about that equation is that when you execute an innocent person, you're not merely letting a killer go free, you're pretty much guaranteeing that no one will bother to keep looking for that killer.
posted by yoink at 9:08 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blue_Villain:
we really shouldn't execute anyone who is not capable of mounting a coherent self-defense
The irony here is that if this were in fact the rule, then the best defense would be simply showing that you are unable to defend yourself.
This is pretty close to the definition of "not guilty by insanity", which people do attempt to fake, and so there are strict hurdles in place to catch such fraud.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:11 AM on September 25, 2012


spaltavian: You don't really need to be a bleeding heart to understand why the death penalty needs to be abolished. It's an irreversible punishment in a necessarily imperfect system.
Not to mention not-cost-effective. You can argue against it on a purely emotionless "What's the cheapest way to get rid of undesirables?" basis.

Really, revenge is the only reason to justify it. And that's only if you believe death is harsher than life imprisonment - several Guantanamo detainees have disagreed.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:16 AM on September 25, 2012


Mentally disabled people are disproportionally present on death row. In many cases, there is a dimwitted guy who tags along with a gang of brutes. The gang is inspired to commit an act of savagery, they get caught, and everybody blames it on the idiot.

I remember reading that in an article originally posted right here on MetaFilter; apparently it's a pretty common technique for guys that do convenience store robberies and that kind of thing (robberies where the intent isn't to kill, but the possibility is there).
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:45 AM on September 25, 2012


The problem with the death penalty, as I see it is that it is a "perfect" punishment, to wit: most modern executions have a very high success rate. Meanwhile, the justice system is highly imperfect and has mediocre success rates.

Heck of a mismatch, eh?

Seems so utterly wrong that such a fluid an imprecise system should serve as a funnel to such a final sentence.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2012




And that's only if you believe death is harsher than life imprisonment - several Guantanamo detainees have disagreed.

Chronicle of a death foretold: Guantanamo Bay prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died without having ever been charged with a crime.
posted by homunculus at 3:51 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


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