By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
By then, there was no office.
The fire happened during a rare stretch of cool weather in June. The arsonists dressed mostly in black and all wore dark, hooded sweaters. Just after 11 p.m., Murillo, Otto, Antonucci, and Robinson met at the Walmart at 75th Avenue and McDowell Road and bought three five-gallon gas cans. They filled them up at a nearby Chevron station and put them in the bed of Antonucci's pickup with two other gas cans already there.
As part of their planned alibi, authorities believe, Murillo and Otto drove to another friend's house about midnight, hung out for a bit, then took Otto's car to meet Antonucci and Robinson at Young Champions headquarters, 5414 South 40th Street. They parked the two vehicles about a block away and left one gas can behind because of the weight — each weighed about 30 pounds. The karate instructors each carried one can to the awning before passing them to the top, says fire inspector Marika McCue.
All four climbed up onto the awning, McCue says.
Antonucci smashed the second-floor window to Rory Hood's office, his hand protected by a soccer shin-guard. The gas cans were hauled inside.
"They were madly splashing it around — 20 gallons of fuel," says McCue. "Even if the room had been twice that size, it still would have been a lot of fumes."
Robinson and his younger friends apparently figured the liquid gas on the floor, desk, and cabinets would catch fire far more slowly. Larry Moody, Robinson's stepfather, says his son wasn't mechanically inclined and was "very naive to the power of gasoline."
When Robinson struck the match, "he spontaneously ignited," says McCue. "Everything — clothes, skin, hair."
The other suspects fled the scene without calling for help.
To create their own alibi, Antonucci and Robinson had intended to drive to Utah after the building was torched. Robinson and his fiancée planned to get married that Sunday night. He had arranged to pick up his other two children at his ex-wife's place and bring them to Phoenix for a brief ceremony.
Now, obviously, the wedding was off.
The three surviving friends met up at Antonucci's house and watched Liar, Liar. It's doubtful they paid much attention to the flick, considering what they'd just been through, but the choice of movie was appropriate. After the movie, Antonucci filed a missing persons report on Robinson. He apparently wanted authorities to believe he had no idea what had happened to his friend.
By dawn, the group had split up. Antonucci drove to Landmark Missionary Baptist Church in Casa Grande, where his father is pastor.
About 1 p.m., a Young Champions employee told authorities the body at the fire scene was definitely Josh Robinson's, judging by a tattoo of a Japanese character on the corpse's back. McCue says the employee told her that Robinson and Antonucci were as "thick as thieves."
Police called Antonucci a couple of hours later and asked him to come in for an interview. He drove to police headquarters at 620 West Washington Street with his brother, Joshua — and blabbed his way right into a jail cell.
Before he gave McCue enough information to arrest him, though, Antonucci inadvertently gave up his friends, Otto and Murillo. In recounting the evening of June 13, Antonucci casually mentioned they had accompanied him to Walmart to buy gas cans, which Robinson wanted to take to Utah "because he has a habit of allowing his vehicle to run out of gas."
Until then, Otto and Murillo weren't on McCue's radar. Young Champions employees didn't suspect them, and police might never have known they were with the other two arsonists that night.
Antonucci told the investigator that, despite the purchase of gas cans and gasoline, he didn't know Robinson intended to burn down a building. He did claim, however, that just one week before, Robinson had "joked" about torching Young Champions to destroy the company's paperwork.
After they bought the gas, Antonucci related in the police interview, Robinson told him he had to run out for a quick errand before they drove to Utah. But, he contended, Robinson never came back.
McCue tightened the screws, telling him — truthfully — that a witness had seen someone that fit his description in a similar pickup driving slowly around the Young Champions building just before the fire started. With that, Antonucci confessed. Sort of.
He admitted he'd driven Robinson to Young Champions. Antonucci told McCue he thought they were driving to Utah, but Robinson started giving him directions that led him to the building. He said he didn't question Robinson, nor did he see the older man remove any gas cans from Antonucci's pickup. He said he waited in the truck a block away, not knowing what Robinson was doing. Then came a popping sound, followed a few minutes later by sirens.
Antonucci told McCue he then drove past the Young Champions building and saw Robinson in flames on top of the awning. He drove down the street, made a U-turn, and drove past one more time. Robinson was now on the ground.
"He said it was awful seeing his best friend agonizingly burn alive," states McCue's report. "He denied getting out of his vehicle and said he just left the area because he didn't want anyone to think he was involved with setting the fire."