The Angolite Tells the Story of a Wrongful Execution in Colorado

A recent issue of The Angolite, a magazine published by prison inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, highlights the story of Joe Arridy, who was executed in 1939 in Colorado. Arridy was sentenced to death in 1937 for the murder and sexual assault of a teenage girl. After his execution, facts pointing to Arridy’s innocence gradually emerged. New evidence showed that he had been coerced into giving a false confession, that he was not in town at the time of the crime, and that another person had admitted to committing the crime. In addition, Arridy had an IQ of 46, and was easily led by police. One psychiatrist, Dr. B.L. Jefferson, testified that Arridy had the mind of a child of about six years old and was not capable in aiding in his defense or of giving a reliable confession. On death row, Arridy spent his days playing with toys and requested ice cream for his last three meals. Witnesses say he stepped into the gas chamber still grinning like a little boy.  On January 7, 2011, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted Arridy a full and unconditional posthumous pardon.

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

NEW RESOURCES: Five New States Added to State Information Pages

DPIC is pleased to announce the addition of five more states to our State Information Pages.  Information is now available for 25 states, including the latest entries:  Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York.  These pages provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state (regardless of whether it currently has the death penalty), including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations.  For frequently-updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database. The remaining state  pages will be made available soon, especially as residents send information, pictures, and links to organizations.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

High Trial Costs Put Death Penalty Under Scrutiny in Arizona, Colorado

The high cost of capital trials has put the death penalty under scrutiny in Arizona and Colorado. In Mohave County, Arizona, where two capital cases have already cost about $239,000 this fiscal year, County Supervisors have been told that the defense costs for trying these two cases and pursuing three other capital cases that are currently on appeal will be $380,000 this fiscal year, with comparable costs expected for next fiscal year. County Supervisors approved an expenditure of an additional $344,000 this year for the capital trials. County supervisors questioned County Attorney Matt Smith on the process for determining whether to seek the death penalty. Smith said his office considers the aggravating factors in the case, as well as the strength of the defense's mitigating factors. Though it is not required, Smith said he also considers the costs to the county before seeking the death penalty. Mohave County has seven defendants on death row, but only one defendant from the county has been executed. In Colorado, The Denver Post reports that the trial of James Holmes, which resulted in a sentence of life without parole, cost taxpayers more than $3 million, including nearly $1.6 million in federal monies. Holmes had offered to plead guilty if the prosecution dropped its quest for the death penalty. When it did not, the resulting trial was one of the longest in state history. Among the costs for the trial were two psychiatric evaluations ($600,000), victims' services and travel expenses to attend the trial ($1.2 million, paid out of a federal grant), and $500,000 in state funding for the District Attorney's office. The Post said the actual price tag for the Holmes case was even higher, because these totals do not include the salaries of state officials, including judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs, who spent large amounts of time on the case instead of other cases, but would have been paid regardless. If those salaries are included, the Post said, the cost of the case soars to more than $7 million. Public defender expenditures were also not included, because they are protected by attorney-client confidentiality.

Colorado Governor Grants Unconditional Pardon Based on Innocence to Inmate Who Was Executed

On January 7, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted a full and unconditional posthumous pardon to Joe Arridy, who had been convicted and executed as an accomplice to a murder that occurred in 1936. The pardon came 72 years after Arridy’s execution and is the first such pardon in Colorado history.  A press release from the governor's office stated, "[A]n overwhelming body of evidence indicates the 23-year-old Arridy was innocent, including false and coerced confessions, the likelihood that Arridy was not in Pueblo at the time of the killing, and an admission of guilt by someone else."  The governor also pointed to Arridy's intellectual disabilities.  He had an IQ of 46 and functioned like a toddler.  The governor said, “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.”

Jurisdictions with no recent executions

Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in most of the nation: the majority of states—31 out of 50—have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. An additional 6 states have not had an execution in at least 5 years, for a total of 37 states with no executions in that time. Three additional jurisdictions (the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) have not had an execution in at least 10 years.

Legislative Activity - Colorado

  • Colorado House Committee Advances Bill to Abolish Capital Punishment The House Judiciary Committee recently voted to abolish the state's death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life-without-parole, and use the money currently spent on capital punishment to help solve 1,200 cold-case homicides in the state. The 7-4 vote followed four hours of testimony from murder victims' family

Justices to Review Death Penalty: Supreme Court Will Decide if Judge's Panel is Constitutional

Justices to review death penalty

Rocky Mountain News
January 12, 2002

Justices to review death penalty--Supreme Court will decide if judge's panel is constitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to review an Arizona death penalty case that could change Colorado's method of imposing death sentences. "It could eliminate the Colorado death penalty scheme," defense lawyer David Lane said.

It also could spare the lives of 3 of the 6 men now on Colorado's death row.

The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether it