June 1st, 2007
In a quiet ceremony this weekend, a tombstone will be placed on the grave of a 23-year-old mentally challenged man who was executed 68 years ago in a Colorado gas chamber.
Fact is, Joe Arridy wasn’t guilty of the crime he was executed for. Fact is, Joe Arridy’s real crime was probably being Syrian and having the mental capacity of a five-year-old in Depression-era America.
In Canon City’s Greenwood Cemetery, those who believe it’s never too late to acknowledge a past injustice will dedicate a tombstone, featuring the etching of a toy train, on the grave of this helpless and hapless young man.
Why now? Evidence uncovered in the past decade indicates that Arridy was a victim of police and prosecutorial misconduct by being convicted in the brutal murders of two young girls in 1936.
His conviction, and those who fought in vain to save him from the gas chamber, is the subject of Apache/Italian filmmaker Daniel Leonetti’s upcoming feature, The Woodpecker Waltz. Leonetti became intrigued with the story after reading about Arridy’s injustice in 1995 book, Deadly Innocence by disabilities advocate Robert Perske.
A screenwriter from Trinidad, Colorado, Leonetti retraced Perske’s research and conducted some of his own to add depth to his story. What he found was astounding—that despite the support of the prison warden and others within the system who believed in his innocence, despite the accused’s limited mental ability, despite the total lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime—Arridy was led to the gas chambers never quite understanding what was awaiting him.
Leonetti’s research and subsequent script earned him top honors in a screenwriting contest and attracted the interest of Hollywood producers. “Producer Micheline Keller called and we had an emotional conversation and she said it was the best screenplay she had ever read and offered an option,” Leonetti recalls.
Producers Max and Micheline Keller and Executive Producer Ramzi Alafandi of the Keller Entertainment Group optioned the screenplay for a feature film and have been working diligently to bring the story of the Forrest Gump-like Joe Arridy to the big screen. Micheline Keller says that what attracted her to the script was not only the quality of the writing and the tragic story, but the element of hope in the people that fought so valiantly to save Joe’s life.
“The beauty that exists in the script is that it so eloquently demonstrates that even in the face of tragedy and a flawed world, there are still righteous people who fight for justice and truth… and as long as that continues to happen, there is hope for the survival of our world.”
It’s taken 68 years for Joe Arridy to get his tombstone. And thanks to filmmaker Daniel Leonetti, his story will soon follow.