In death there is life and nothing could better epitomize this like the gathering on May 19th sponsored by The ARC Pikes Peak Region Colorado Springs when Little Joe’s grave site was re-dedicated. The sad and tragic tale of a mentally disadvantaged person (Joe Arridy) who was wrongfully executed for the rape and murder of a little girl 72 years ago bore unexpected fruit. Though the valiant efforts to save Joe from the gallows by attorney Gail Ireland were in vain he laid the groundwork for future champions of humanity to pick up where he left off. Now Little Joe has been posthumously pardoned by the noble Governor of Colorado Bill Ritter in this historic ground breaking event but the story does not end here.
The moment I began to covering the Joe Arridy story in 2007 I found myself surrounded by greatness and nobility in the world of humanity. Richard Vorrhees sociologist/anthropologist presented a simply yet poignant poem by Marguerite Young about Joe, *“The Clinic,” to renowned author and humanitarian **Robert Perske (Photo) and in doing so he reincarnated the spirit of Little Joe in 1992. Enraged by such a travesty of justice Mr. Perske wrote a book, **“Deadly Innocence” that chronicled the life and death of Joe Arridy in an era where mob rule, ego and lies influenced the judiciary. The story was compelling in many ways since it also exposed a dark side of American history where hatred and prejudice was the norm and socially acceptable. I would not have been privy to such humanitarians if it were not for Daniel Sanchez Leonetti author of the award winning screenplay “Woodpecker Waltz”, an epic accounting of Little Joe Arridy’s journey to Death Row.
I began to document the journey of Joe Arridy’s story and in the process I became spellbound by everyone involved in the fight to exonerate him. Through the lenses of my camera I witnessed the spirit of Joe Arridy as his message of loving and innocence took on a life of its own. Though his personal life was a tragedy his spirit enchanted everyone involved in this ever evolving project. From Craig Severa of ARC placing a grave stone on Little Joe’s grave to the moment Daniel Leonetti conceived an idea to garnering a pardon for Little Joe I was hooked. The unseen power and dynamic of Little Joe’s spirit was truly alive and living in all of us and continues to this day. Then Antonio Sanchez, Daniel’s cousin, contacted his dear friend and Denver attorney David Martinez to see if he could accomplish the impossible, a posthumous pardon for Joe. Mr. Martinez became driven and worked tirelessly like a man possessed, then he achieved the impossible and Joe was pardoned by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. It was as if the spirit of Gail Ireland came to finish his work through David. When Mr. Martinez learned of the pardon there were no words to describe the elation this brilliant attorney felt.
Pryor to the gravesite re-dedication, on May 18th at the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs ARC sponsored “A Conversation about Joe” where all the parties involved in the Joe Arridy cause came to speak. It was at this time I was introduced to Terri Bradt the grand daughter of attorney Gail Ireland. It was apparent she was a chip off the ole block and I was enriched from our meeting. Both she and her husband Terry were warm, gracious and truly royalty within this gathering since it was her grandfather Gail Ireland who laid the groundwork for Joe Arridy’s pardon. Terri also gave me some invaluable insights in her grandfather’s history since he did not let any grass grow under his feet and became Attorney General for two distinguished terms in Colorado. He also bartered multi-state water agreements in the Rocky Mountain region and has become a legend within legal circles as well as an intrinsic part of Colorado and US history. Ms. Bradt wrote a book titled, ****“Gail Ireland, Colorado Citizen Lawyer” that chronicled Mr. Ireland’s many accomplishments and as I mentioned earlier, he laid the groundwork for Little Joe’s pardon. His tireless contribution to this cause was invaluable to Mr. Martinez and other researchers.
The frosting on the proverbial cake was when Ms. Bradt spoke of her beloved grandfather Gail Ireland. The personal insights about this champion of justice were priceless and gave us all a glimpse of who he was as a human being, a loving grandpa. Surely I was walking among true nobility and it was a good thing I had my camera rolling to capture it all since this was history in the making. There was a bit of irony for Terri and her husband as they toured around Southern Colorado though. They informed me that they encountered some negative feedback over the pardon of Joe Arridy since some people still purported his guilt or were not convinced Little Joe was innocent. In essence she and her husband got to sample some of the closed mindedness her grandfather endured while struggling to save Joe’s life from extermination. Fortunately they were undeterred by this chance encounter and the people who rambled on about the case were not aware of whom this couple was. I found it darkly humorous in my crusty sardonic way. Imagine, after 72 years and reams of data proving Joe was innocent some boneheads still had doubts. How far beyond stupid is that eh?
But no story about Joe Arridy would be complete without mentioning my friend and colleague Robert Perske. This vibrant man is truly a champion of the weak and innocent for he continues to be the driving force and inspiration to everyone he encounters. His eloquent and endearing manner is deceiving and conceals the fact he is also determined and dedicated warrior in the causes of humanity. He is a titan among the mere mortals who dares to cross his path and he’s an articulate adversary indeed. It was said he has large wings and it is an honor to have been accepted into his fold. He introduced me to a colleagues of his, the vivacious Anne Treimanis who built a web site dedicated to Joe Arridy simply called *****“Friends of Joe Arridy”. She had compiled many facts about the case and this site has become a bastion for those who stand for the cause of justice and human rights. I later learned she was a very prominent and successful attorney within the state she resides and one tough cookie in the courtroom. But she, like the rest of us, was smitten by the unbridled loving innocence Little Joe emanated up until he took his last breath. In all actuality Joe is very much alive and well living in the hearts of all who come to know him.
There are others I have not mentioned yet including the descendants of Joe Arridy, Maria Tucker and Angelina Sanchez for their stories are very compelling indeed and deserve more than a paragraph. Maria has archived Joe’s story and court documents in the library she works but this and other stories will be told when it is all said and done in the days to come. For now I still have a banquet to attend and more interviews to film because this story is not done for it is evolving as of this writing. And in the midst of all this greatness are three crusty injun dudes, Daniel, Antonio and me. At least we were not mistaken for the pool cleaners eh.
Your Devil’s Advocate