“Words from those working on the film, “Woodpecker Waltz:”
Dan Leonetti, Screenwriter for The Woodpecker Waltz 2008
I was outraged to learn what the State of Colorado did to little Joe Arridy. Here was this persecution of innocence buried under tons of guilt and shame for nearly seventy years. When my sister, Connie, brought me a Pueblo Chieftain newspaper story on Robert Perske and his book, Deadly Innocence, I shattered a chair in my anger. How could such a thing happen? How could such things be happening today in Texas and other death-happy states? I was haunted by the vision of a man/child playing with a toy train in the hall of Death Row. I could hear his gleeful laughter. The execution of little Joe Arridy was, as Joe’s lawyer wrote in a letter ”a case of murder itself.”
So I tracked down Robert Perske and send him a copy of another screenplay. I said if you like this story, perhaps you would give me the honor of writing Joe’s tragic tale for a movie. He called and said: Yes. Thus, began a friendship that was forged by the common themes of injustice and man’s inhumanity to man. The writing of THE WOODPECKER WALTZ was a journey of pain, joy and hope. During the course of the writing, I had the idea of a Posthumous pardon for little Joe.
To my amazement, the screenplay won a New York screenwriting contest. The publicity opened the door to the Keller Entertainment Group. And now, I consider Max and Micheline Keller as wonderful friends. My intention was to give life and voice and meaning to the life of Joe Arridy. My dream is to introduce Joe to the world in a feature film. And it is great to have friends jump into the boat and start rowing for the same dream.
Max Keller, Producer for The Woodpecker Waltz 2008
As a Producer for thirty years, thousands of ideas and scripts come across my desk and (in these days) computer yearly. When the story of Joe Arridy was submitted to me by the writer Dan Leonetti, I knew instantly that it was a script to read. After the script came in I was so pleased that it met my every expectation and I urged my wife, Micheline, to read the script as soon as possible. Micheline promptly read the script and shared my enthusiasm. From that point our journey began to bring the film project to the big screen. Great material is often the most difficult to finance but always yields the largest rewards both financially and critically. I am proud to be a part of the team that will make the film and am confident that 2009 will see the production commence.
Micheline Keller, Producer for The Woodpecker Waltz 2008
My husband and I practiced law until we began producing films in l976. Since that time we have produced over 20 movies and 4 television series. Our legal backgrounds led us to produce many docudrama movies for television for CBS, NBC and HBO including Grambling’s White Tiger, Kent State, Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, Women of Valor and Dreams of Gold, The Mel Fisher Story.
Max read a one paragraph synopsis of The Woodpecker Waltz on an internet website and requested the script from the screenplay writer, Dan Leonetti. The subject matter of a true story about a mentally challenged young man being put to death in a gas chamber and the attorney who valiantly fought to save his young life greatly attracted him. Certainly all the elements were there for a powerful story.
The Dostoevsky quote that Dan put at the opening of the script also intrigued me, “A perfect soul cannot exist in an imperfect world”. I found myself weeping as I reached the conclusion of the screenplay and realized its power. It is much more than a quality screenplay of a tragic story. The beauty of the screenplay 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.
We believe that this screenplay will become a classic motion picture and one of which we can all be proud. It will touch millions of people throughout the world with its message of tolerance. It will also honor the life and untimely, unjust death of young Joe Arridy.
George Edde, Producer for The Woodpecker Waltz 2008
The story of Joe Arridy shows the co-existence between different cultures and because of women and men of honor, their belief in justice and never giving up, the truth will always be the winner. As we were so concerned by this true story, we are willing so strongly to produce this movie as a reward for the achievement of justice.
Yvonne Karouni, Producer for The Woodpecker Waltz 2008
No matter cultures, countries, nationalities, they were and still injustices in our world… All these unfair and unacceptable charges to innocent people bring all of us to ask a question: WHY? The story of Joe Arridy touched us from the deepest of our heart because it is a story that could happen anytime, anywhere…and it is a strong message to all of us to think for a new world for our children. And the only way to avoid in the future such revolting injustice is to inform every person, no matter his age, his culture or his religion, and make people aware. That is why, it is so important for us to produce this movie, and to share finally the truth with everyone! We all have to forgive but never to accept it!
Teddi Roberts, Executive Director, The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region 2008
I remember reading the story about Joe Arridy and was saddened by the obvious mistake that our justice system made, but this was not the first time that the justice system made a mistake. Working with offenders who allegedly commit crimes it is imperative that they have an advocate beside them helping them understand the process. Joe did not have this, so I did not even think twice about The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region helping in any way we could. We have too often seen injustice with people who are intellectually disabled who end up in the criminal justice system. The death penalty is also an issue that I care deeply about.
It is more important than ever to draw attention to the wrongs that have happened in the criminal justice system, so that we can maybe begin to change the injustice. In our own little world in Colorado Springs we have experienced first hand the good that can happen when all interested parties are communicating with each other and working towards a goal that will benefit the community but more importantly the person being charged with a crime. To leave no stone unturned is our mission and our desire. Joe’s story deserves all the attention we can give to it so that hopefully this will never ever happen to someone else who happens to have an intellectual disability.
Craig Severa, Advocate Specialist, The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region 2008
My friend Bob Perske and I drove down to Canon City to try to find little Joe’s marker in the prison grave yard. We found him, just a few plots away from the grave of Frank Aguliar, the man that actually committed the crime. No small irony there.
When we were leaving the grave yard, Bob made a comment about how great it would be if I could figure out a way to put a proper stone on Joe’s grave — rather than the rusted license plate on a stake.
I started out by hooking up with prison officials who pointed me in the right direction. I was told it would be permissible as long as there was nothing controversial inscribed on the stone, like “Here lies an innocent man wrongly executed by the state for a crime he didn’t commit. A little guy that didn’t have a mean bone in his body. A little guy who never had a chance” (don’t get me started). They did allow us to put on it a photograph of Joe playing with his toy train the night before he went to the gas chamber.
From there it was just a matter of soliciting donations from my circle of friends, including public defenders, bar room buddies, a couple of judges and various other human service outlaws, Without them this never would have happened. Without my buddy Bob Perske this never would have happened.
Through this whole experience I made many new friends, like screen writer Dan Leonetti, Waco, and Steve Greenspan, just to name a few. These are the kind of guys I’d walk through fire for.
When the work was done the friends of Joe got together at the cemetary and gave this little guy his due. Proving that there is still a little kindness, decency, and somewhere a sense of justice in this world.
A week later an attorney buddy of mine, who joined the procession on his Harley on that beautiful spring morning, called me up.
“Your gonna hate me” he said. He pointed out that that the stone cutter had made the mistake of putting “Joseph” (Joe) on the stone, and that Joe’s legal name was actually Joe. He reminded me that the fact was pointed out in Perske’s book, Deadly Innocence. So for a week I was a big shot. I guess that’s what I get for hanging around educated people. Tim at Rocky Mountain Memorial told me he thinks he can fix it for three hundred bucks.
As much as anything, the reason for all this is that Joe’s story is not just nostalgia. Forty percent of the incarcerated population in this country have a diagnosis of mental illness or developmental disability. These are the most abused, misunderstood and marginalized people in our society. In many ways not a lot has changed since the 1930’s, as far as the wrongful treatment of these individuals. I see it every time I hear someone use the word “retarded” in a flip and hateful way. I realize it every time I hear of a person with a disability wrongly accused of a crime he or she did not commit. I experience it when ever I advocate for a person with a disability who is involved with the criminal justice system. We must continue to make people aware that there are stories like Joe’s still out there today.
As for Joe Arridy, his case is by far the worst miscarriage of justice I have ever seen in my whole career as an advocate worker.
Attorney Anne Treimanis, Webmaster 2008
I am humbled by the advocacy and compassion of the Friends of Joe Arridy. For years a group of thoughtful citizens tried to clear Joe’s name. I felt compelled to make some kind of contribution, thus the website https://friendsofjoearridy.com was my gift.
Law Office of Anne I. Treimanis, LLC Norwalk, CT
Robert Perske: Street-Court-Prison Worker & Author January 7, 2011
To our friends and colleagues:
Today at noon, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter announced that he is posthumously pardoning Joe Arridy.
Little Joe, a small man with an intellectual disability — who didn’t have a mean bone in his body — was coerced into confessing to the murder of Dorothy Drain, in Pueblo on August 15, 1936. He was wrongly executed in the prison at Canon City on January 6. 1939.
Our hero is Denver Attorney David Martinez, who crafted a 400-page petition so beautifully that Governor Ritter was deeply moved by the arguments he made. David volunteered all of his time and sweat on this case.
David: We will love you until we die!
Also, I think there is a powerful moral in all of this: If one faces a tough situation and gives up too quickly, he or she may miss out on a fantastic conclusion!
Street-Court-Prison Worker & Author
Terri Bradt, granddaughter of Joe’s champion, attorney Gail Ireland January 11, 2011
Chance, or fate brought me into Joe Arridy’s Circle of Friends in November of 2009, after my mother gave me a box full of my grandfather’s pictures and documents for safekeeping. I’ve always been proud of my grandfather, Gail Ireland, his career as attorney, Colorado Attorney General, and as a Colorado Water Commissioner. I also knew that he was proud of a pro bono case he took in the 1930s defending a mentally disabled man accused of rape and murder. So, trying to decide what to do with this precious box of my grandfather’s stuff, I googled the name, Gail Ireland. Much to my surprise, I discovered Joe’s Friends! Writers, attorneys, advocates, and more had been working already for some years to restore the name, if not the life of the young man, Joe Arridy. The people in this movement seemed partly inspired by my grandfather’s efforts in the 1930’s to save Joe’s life. Gail Ireland was a role model for them, and interestingly, they seemed to know him intimately in their hearts and minds, though knowing little about him except what little history had been written. So, inspired by them, I decided to take that box, and my memories of my grandfather, and write his story, Gail Ireland: Colorado Citizen Lawyer.
Then, incredibly, on January 7, 2011, Joe Arridy was granted a posthumous pardon by outgoing Colorado Governor Ritter, 72 years after Joe was executed. The power of faith and love among all of Joe’s friends led to the realization of justice for a special boy who society should have embraced, not annihilated. Gail Ireland may not have lived to see how his efforts played out, but I did, as did all of Joe’s friends. Thank you, all of you, because any friend of Joe is a friend of Gail Ireland, and me.
Richard Voorhees, The Man Who Discovered The Poem that Triggered the Whole Effort in 1992 January 2011
I sent out the pardon news. A friend commented, “But one has to wonder why justice takes nearly 72 years to accomplish.” Indeed. 72 years ago there was better judgement at hand in Warden Best, Gail Ireland and a couple judges at least. There were probably more. Folks with better judgement often get lost. 19 years ago we started over with a poem. Marguerite Young and her friend Mari Sandoz left us a song of gentle outrage. Bob Perske reconstructed the story. Dan Leonetti wrote a screenplay. Craig Severa talked to lots of folks. Terri Bradt brought Gail Ireland back to the center of the discussion, a fact explicitly noted by Governor Ritter. David Martinez reconstructed the legal case. That is to mention a few of dozens. We have 72 years of better judgement. My good friend Gabino Rendon in Las Vegas, New Mexico has often remarked that rumor powers events. Rumor sweeps past better judgement. Our democracy would like for us to hear grounded voices much earlier. May folks take to heart Joe’s story in Deadly Innocence, Governor Ritter’s pardon and The Woodpecker Waltz. May we increasingly come to attend to what is in front of us.
Michael Radelet – Professor of Sociology, University of Colorado, Board Member, The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
As you know, in 1987 Hugo Bedau and I published a paper in Stanford Law Review that was the first major study of erroneous convictions in homicide cases in the modern era. At the time, Hugo and I, along with such outstanding abolitionists as Sister Helen Prejean, Henry Schwarzschild, and Jim Sunderland (a Jesuit priest from Denver) were all on the Board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Hugo and I worked closely with my close friend Watt Espy.
After you contacted Watt (in the early 1990s), he sent me information about the Arridy case, which I shared with several Colorado attorneys (in the early 1990s I testified in a half dozen Colorado death penalty cases). So I had nothing to do with the discovery of the Arridy case — my job was to catch the pass you threw and to see if we could run with it.
Seems like just yesterday!
Mike July 2011
Brenda King, Program Director, The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region July 2011
Fighting for the rights for people with intellectual disabilities on a local level is what we do. We don’t wait for higher authorities to tell what to do. We just got on a soap box for a friend like Joe and we don’t get down until something is done. When you work with two people like Teddi and Craig, who have the same passion as I do, it’s easy. We are not attorneys and there are no written rules about how to advocate for these folks. We just do it. We stood on our soap and we just went about bursting bubbles until the whole world learned that Joe Arridy was executed for a crime he never could have committed.
David A. Martinez, Esq. – Attorney who successfully secured Joe’s posthumous pardon from Governor Ritter July 2011
I became one of Joe’s friends initially after I learned the story of Joe’s tragic execution. Then when I experienced personally the passion and the energy in the emotions of you (Bob Perske), Craig and his troops from the ARC of Colorado Springs, Dan Leonetti and Antonio Sanchez at the tombstone ceremony on Woodpecker Hill in June of 2007, I gained an better understanding as to the gravity of the injustices that victimized Joe.
As time passed, and once I took on the task of seeking a posthumous pardon for Joe, and while doing the research and work necessary for the filing of the petition to the Governor (thanks to your files and the hard work that you had done previously, Mr. Bob Perske), for me Joe transformed in status from that of a friend to that of an adopted son — a young boy who deserved to have this grave miscarriage of justice corrected; an innocent intellectually disabled person deeply entitled to have his innocence established posthumously; so that his story and his tearful ending in 1939, culminating in a full and unconditional pardon 72 years later, could serve as a symbol of hope to other intellectually and developmentally disabled persons who now come after him.