Joe Watson, Salon Bandit, and Jonathan Antonucci, Karate-Instructor-Turned-Arsonist, Featured on MSNBC's Lockup

The "stars" of last Saturday's episode of MSNBC's inmate reality show, Lockup, were a couple of guys who should be familiar to regular readers of New Times:

One is former New Times writer Joe Watson, a.k.a. the "Salon Bandit.

The other: Former karate instructor Jonathan Antonucci, the key figure from a fatal arson fire featured in our January 21 issue.

The two shared a cell for a time in Maricopa County's Fourth Avenue Jail, a fact that Lockup called "ironic." We think it's just plain weird.

The show that aired July 24 followed inmates in the jail early this year, covering the March 5 sentencing of Antonucci.

Watson, we learn, has been doing his time as the stereotypical jailhouse lawyer, saying he files motions on behalf of inmates while warning them "if it doesn't work out, I'm sorry but please don't blame me." Though ruled incompetent to stand trial for a time last year, another way he persuades inmates to give him their snacks from the canteen is by writing poems and love letters for their girlfriends. Here's a sample from a transcript provided to us by Lockup:

Joe: I uh, wrote that poem, for your girl.
Boo: Let me see.
Joe: Alright, well, let me read it to you and see if it's alright.
Boo: Alright.
Joe: Okay
Boo: Yeah.
Joe: I write this for you in the sweetest sense, with love and longing, this is true romance. If I were a free man, I'd whisk you away. We'd be on the lam, but in love, come what may. And flowers, yes, flowers, you know which ones, the ones that grow tall and mimic the sun. From Mesa to Queen Creek, A.J. to the East, I will cry your name and then repeat, I love you, I love you, I love you. I've gotta make you see, what you mean to me, Michelle, my belle.


Producer: What do you think, Boo?
Boo: It was good.
Producer: Are you pretty impressed?
Boo: Yeah, I'm very impressed. I should have gave him three pretzels.

Antonucci, meanwhile, finds his own way to cope.

The son of a part-time Baptist pastor, Antonucci's knowledge of the Bible allows him to play the role of jailhouse preacher. Antonucci confesses that he's a "coward" who made a huge mistake in committing the arson at the headquarters of Young Champions of America -- an act that resulted in the death of his best friend, Josh Robinson.

As the show points out, though, "Some inmates here don't believe his claims of remorse." Again, from the transcript:

Inmate: You should recruit that hard every day for bible study, not just for the cameras.
Jon: I do, but I've just gotta get it right away, you know what I mean.
Inmate: That's real, real show some humility, bro. Doing it for the cameras, man.

Lockup says the New Times article about the arson fire "haunts" Antonucci in the days before his sentencing, although Antonucci calls our article "just." In one part of the show, he says he hopes for a "miracle" -- that the judge will only give him seven years. But he also fears the judge reads New Times:

What happens after this article? Does it have an impact?
Jon Antonucci:
Obviously not favorable. But, it's just. Judge is probably gonna read it. He's gonna see my... tangled web of lies. And, when I stand in that courtroom, and I tell him I'm sorry, I doubt he'll believe a word I say.

In fact, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer did state during Antonucci's sentencing that he read the New Times' piece. However, when he addressed Antonucci during the hearing, Kreamer didn't mention the article as one of the reasons he was handing down an aggravated sentence.

Instead, Kreamer mentioned the effect of Antonucci's actions on the children he had taught for Young Champions, and on the callousness of leaving behind his burned friend when he fled the scene of the crime. Kreamer sentenced Antonucci to 14 years in prison.

Watson's still in county lockup. His sentencing is set for August 27. Although he was looking at a possibility of 25 years at one point, Watson told MSNBC he faced no more than 9 1/2 years in prison.

They may be behind bars -- but, hey, they're sort of famous!

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.