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‘The happiest man on death row’ was wrongly killed for murder he didn’t commit

Ella Scott

Published 
| Last updated 

‘The happiest man on death row’ was wrongly killed for murder he didn’t commit

Featured Image Credit: Associated Press/Alamy/YouTube/Young Blunt

Dubbed the 'happiest prisoner on death row', Joe Arridy was an American man once falsely accused of committing a heinous crime.

In 1936, Arridy - then 21 - was taken into custody and charged with the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl called Dorothy Drain, who had been found dead by her parents.

On the same day, two other women had reported being assaulted by a man close to the Drain family home, with Pueblo police and Sheriff George Carroll under intense pressure from the local community and the media to catch the killer.

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Arridy - who had mental disabilities - was 'picked up' after being found wandering aimlessly and ended up confessing to the murders. He was said to be easy to coerce and very susceptible to suggestion.

Despite not being able to pronounce long phrases correctly, nor having the ability to identify certain colours, the innocent man was tried and found guilty of raping and murdering Drain.

Joe Arridy was wrongfully imprisoned and tried for rape and murder. Credit: YouTube/Young Blunt
Joe Arridy was wrongfully imprisoned and tried for rape and murder. Credit: YouTube/Young Blunt

It’s reported that three psychiatrists declared Arridy 'handicapped with an IQ of 46' however, the Colorado native was found guilty and sentenced to death.

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The superintendent of the state home where Arridy lived said he was 'often taken advantage of by the other boys', who once managed to coerce him into confessing to stealing cigarettes although he didn't do it.

Despite being listed for execution, it’s said that the prisoner didn’t have the mental ability to understand the concept of dying, and was therefore unafraid of being on death row.

Prison Warden Roy Best declared that 'Joe Arridy is the happiest man who ever lived on death row.'

Three psychiatrists ruled Joe "handicapped". Credit: Public Domain
Three psychiatrists ruled Joe "handicapped". Credit: Public Domain
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For his final meal at the age of 23, a request for ice cream was made — but the portion was never finished.

Instead, the prisoner asked whether he could 'save some for later', as he didn’t understand that he wouldn’t get another chance to eat.

On 6 January 1939, the inmate gave his only possession, a train set, to another death row dweller. He was then led to his execution.

Arridy was led to a gas chamber by prison guards and tied to a chair inside. It’s reported that the Drain family were not in attendance, and his minders were crying after he had died.

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Attorney Gail Ireland wrote during the case: “Believe me when I say that if he is gassed it will take a long time for the state of Colorado to live down the disgrace.”

It wasn’t until 2011 that the man was posthumously pardoned, and cleared of all wrong-doings.

The governor of the state of Colorado, Bill Ritter said: “Joe Arridy’s pardon cannot erase the tragic event in Colorado’s history. It is in the interest of justice and for the sake of decency that his name is restored.”

The case has since become the subject of many true crime podcasts.

Topics: News, Crime, True crime, US News, Police

Ella Scott
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