What do Joe Arridy and Tyler Sanchez have in common? Both were diagnosed as developmentally delayed, and both confessed to sex crimes they didn't commit after grueling interrogation. But while Arridy was eventually executed circa 1939 in one of Colorado's most shocking miscarriages of justice (more on that below), Sanchez has finally been cleared after a three-year ordeal.
Sanchez's nightmare is rooted in an incident that took place on July 10, 2009. On that date, police in Parker announced that an eight year old living at a home in the Stonegate subdivision had been attacked while sleeping, and sexually assaulted.
Just over a week later, as 7News reported at the time, Sanchez, who suffers from impaired hearing and anxiety disorders and has a borderline IQ, was arrested -- but not initially for molesting the girl. According to the Parker PD, officers had received a report of a prowler. They subsequently traced the license plate number of what was described as a suspicious vehicle to Sanchez's home; he was sitting in the car, which he'd driven home from his job at McDonald's, when the cops pulled up.
After busting Sanchez for investigation of second-degree trespassing and a probation violation related to a previous felony-criminal-mischief incident, however, investigators began to see him as the perp in the Stonegate offense. In the end, Sanchez, who also had a restraining order violation involving alcohol on his record, was charged with sexual assault on a child, unlawful sexual contact and first-degree burglary, and jailed on a $1 million bond.
What the cops didn't reveal at the time is that Sanchez only confessed after an interrogation that lasted seventeen hours. Moreover, he didn't even come close to matching the description offered by the girl, who said she'd been violated by a brown-haired man in his forties who weighed approximately 200 pounds.
Over the course of the subsequent investigation, more evidence pointing to Sanchez's innocence surfaced. For instance, DNA from the girl's father and an unidentified male was found in her underwear, but none from the man charged with assaulting her. Yet the case lingered on until this week, when a district judge dismissed the charge against him and the 18th Judicial District DA's office formally dropped the case.
Such exoneration wasn't granted Arridy until long after his death. Here's how Alan Prendergast described his story in a post last month:
A Pueblo native, the son of Syrian immigrants, Arridy had been diagnosed as an "imbecile" -- an actual term at the time for measuring degrees of mental retardation, not to be confused with being an "idiot" or a "moron" -- and sent at age ten to the Colorado State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives in Grand Junction. As a young man he began skipping out of the place and riding the rails.
In August 1936, Arridy was picked up in the railyards of Cheyenne for vagrancy. Learning that his new captive used to live in Pueblo, Sheriff George Carroll, a Wyoming superstar lawman who'd made headlines over his shootout with Ma Barker's gang, soon got a confession out of Arridy to the notorious rape and murder of a fifteen-year-old girl in Pueblo that had occurred ten days earlier. When it turned out the Pueblo police already had a suspect and a murder weapon that didn't jive with Arridy's (or Carroll's) version, the sheriff extracted a "corrected" statement from Arridy that indicated he and the other suspect committed the crime together.
As detailed in Robert Perske's book on the case, Deadly Innocence?, Arridy was a pleasant, agreeable patsy who liked to hammer nails and couldn't distinguish between the colors red and black. It's likely he wasn't even in Pueblo at the time of the murder. He liked to play with toy trains in the death house and couldn't comprehend the seriousness of his situation. Warden Roy Best called him "the happiest prisoner on death row" and worked behind the scenes to try to get stays of execution. But time ran out in the first week of 1939.
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As one of his last acts in office, Governor Bill Ritter issued a posthumous pardon in Arridy's name -- and while that won't be necessary in Sanchez's case, his parents are still furious about their family having been put through the wringer for so long, as they make clear in this 9News interview.
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Bill Ritter's commutations draw praise, bitter rebukes."