It was early Christmas Eve morning.
Wade Arnold, 34, climbed into the back seat of the transportation vehicle at the state prison facility in Tucson. Hampered by leg irons and handcuffs, Arnold moved awkwardly.
The night before," Arnold remembers, I had packed up my 13-inch television set and all my personal belongings into four boxes. I was ready to go home." However, Arnold still faced a big hurdle; a crucial court hearing in Phoenix. He had already served 16 years and 158 days of a 25-year sentence for second-degree murder.
The hearing before Superior Court Judge Ronald Reinstein was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. If things went well, Arnold might be released this very day.
Two prison transportation officers sat in the front seat. Arnold was alone in the back. When he entered prison at 17, he was 5 feet 9 and weighed 135 pounds. Now, he is 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 185 pounds. After years of hard work as well as lifting weights five days a week, Arnold can bench-press 300 pounds. He has jet-black hair and wears a full black mustache. He looks more like a professional actor or athlete than a penitentiary inmate. In 16 years of prison life, Arnold never got into a single argument or fight with another inmate or guard. He had been a model prisoner during his entire incarceration.
Now, the guard on the passenger side turned around to look back at Arnold.
²ÔHey, Wade. You won't be terribly disappointed if this hearing doesn't work out, will you?" Arnold smiled back.
I hope to go home today," Arnold said. My mom's coming to court with a change of clothes. But don't worry. If it doesn't work out, I won't give you guys any trouble." ²The guard shook his head.
Kid, I wish you luck," he said. But I've got to tell you something. I've been on this job a lot of years. And every time we make this trip, the men we transport think they're gonna get released. So far, not one of them ever has. For your own sake, don't get your hopes too high, okay?"
Arnold settled back in the rear seat. The drive from Tucson to Phoenix on Interstate 10 is one of the most boring on the North American continent. There is nothing to see. Arnold stared out the window at the grim, unchanging landscape.
His thoughts drifted back to the morning of June 1, 1975, and how this had all begun. Arnold was a 17-year-old student at DeVry Institute in Phoenix when he was approached by a heavy-duty burglar named Gary Cagnina, then 20. Cagnina told Arnold he needed someone who had a car to help him commit a no-risk burglary for easy money. Targeted was the home of Dr. Harry Schornick, 82, at 925 West Palm Lane in Encanto Park. Cagnina normally specialized in hitting drugstores. He'd been working with Buster Holsinger and his wife, Jeannie. Holsinger, a local character, was a pollution-control inspector who set up hits on the side. His wife had been an English instructor at Arizona State University. The Holsingers, who had a long-standing grudge against Dr. Schornick, actually had made arrangements with Cagnina to kill the doctor. The only one who wasn't in on the plan was young Wade Arnold. He was told only that it was a burglary and a car ride.
Jeannie Holsinger told the two young men that Dr. Schornick always kept as much as $3,000 in cash in his bedroom. She warned them he also had a gun, but calmed their fears by telling them he was such an old man he was a terrible shot.
And Buster Holsinger gave Cagnina a .22-caliber pistol to bring along on the job. Holsinger promised to pay him well for his efforts. With Cagnina carrying the weapon, they entered Dr. Schornick's home in the early hours of June 1, 1975.
Almost at once, the burglary turned sour. In the hallway, Cagnina encountered Dr. Schornick's housekeeper, Theresa Bortz, 81. In a panic, Cagnina opened fire, killing the old woman. Dr. Schornick emerged from his bedroom. He had heard the shots and the woman's cry. Cagnina shot Dr. Schornick, too, wounding him slightly. Arnold ran out of the house even before the shots were fired. Cagnina caught up to him as he was starting to drive away.
The pair fled the scene. Arnold never even realized anyone had been hit by Cagnina's shots, and Cagnina never told him. From this point on, Arnold became little more than an inexperienced victim who was in way over his head.
In its day, the crime was sensational. Police figured it as a contract murder attempt on Dr. Schornick. Buster Holsinger was the main target of the investigators. Holsinger had, after all, plotted the crime and provided the weapon. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.