If he had to do it again, he says, he wouldn't try to stop the arson with mere argument. Instead of acting "cowardly," he says he would have tackled Robinson to stop him.

He implies that Robinson had a motive for the arson but that "embezzlement had absolutely nothing to do with it."

So what was the motive?

The June 14 arson fire gutted Young Champions of America headquarters. In this picture, remains of the awning used by the arsonists to access a second-floor office can be seen.
Ray Stern
The June 14 arson fire gutted Young Champions of America headquarters. In this picture, remains of the awning used by the arsonists to access a second-floor office can be seen.

"The motivation was not my own, so I'd rather not speak of it," he replies.

Though Antonucci reportedly told McCue that he never got out of his truck, he now claims he was far from the truck when the fire broke out. He says the police report is wrong: He never saw Robinson on fire and, therefore, didn't fail to seek help for his friend.

"To me, it made me sound like quite a monster, and that is not what happened," he says. "The smart side got a hold of me about 15 seconds after the incident began, and I ran as fast as I possibly could" back to the truck.

Clearly, his statements to New Times and to police can't both be true.

It's disturbing how Antonucci tries to justify stealing money from Young Champions. Though he admits "there was probably $600 to $800 that I came by that I should not have come by," he explains that he took the money in retaliation for the company's breaking a promise to him. In 2008, he was told by the company that he could work as an instructor for a summer camp, he says, but Young Champions canceled the camp. That put him in a financial bind, he says, "so I thought . . . I'll take a little extra here."

He says he believes Young Champions didn't deserve to be torched, but "I guess some people might disagree with that."

Antonucci says he doesn't believe Otto or Murillo should be sentenced to any more time in prison than he himself gets. (Otto's trial, if he doesn't change his plea, is scheduled in May.) Antonucci says he hopes Otto will be found innocent.

He says he also hopes the judge in his case, Joseph Kreamer, gives him fewer than the minimum seven years that the state is seeking. When he gets out, he says, he'll try to find Robinson's son "to make sure he's doing okay."

Somehow, it seems doubtful that Robinson's former fiancée, who has reportedly returned to Mexico, would ever want to see him again.

The staffers at Young Champions sure don't. They hope he gets the maximum 21 years. And they worry that whenever he gets out, he will come after them or the company.


Josh Robinson's parents are crushed, both by their son's death and his criminal behavior. Angie Guzman, Robinson's sister, cries as she explains how she and her son are unlikely to see Robinson's kids ever again.

Then there are all the friends and students of the four people connected to the arson. Two memorials for Robinson drew hundreds of people. In response to online articles in New Times about the suspects, many parents of students left written comments about how the crime has shaken their lives.

One woman contacted by New Times related how her teenage daughter had benefited enormously from training with Robinson over seven years.

"She was devastated [by the death]," the teen's mother says. "Two weeks later, she had lost 10 pounds. Her self-confidence has gone down. She doesn't trust people. She's just not the same — it's like her innocence was lost."

The woman said she wanted to deliver a message to Antonucci from her daughter at his sentencing hearing.

"She wanted me to look Jon in the eye and ask, 'Why did you leave your best friend when he was on fire?'"

The woman showed up for the scheduled sentencing on January 8 but didn't try to talk to Antonucci. (A sign in the courtroom prohibits such communication with detainees.)

Antonucci, in shackles, smiled occasionally during the proceeding but didn't turn to look at anyone in the gallery.

The courtroom was packed: Antonucci's friends and family on one side, and his detractors — including staff members of Young Champions — on the other. His father's mouth hung open slightly, as if stunned by the event. His mother had a sort of old-school Christian schoolmarm look; she wore a plain, long, blue skirt and white blouse. Neither would comment for this article.

Antonucci's lawyer, Jeffrey Kirchler, said he needed extra time to round up people to testify in support of the defendant. Judge Kreamer rescheduled the sentencing for March 5.

Deputy County Attorney Jon Wendell told the judge he would use the extra time to prepare a list of aggravating factors Kreamer should consider before the sentencing.

As he was led out after the hearing, Sensei Jon avoided the stares of his detractors.

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