Young Champions Arson Nets Final Guilty Plea; Third Karate Instructor Admits to Crime That Killed Friend


The third member of a group of karate instructors who burned down the Young Champions of America headquarters last June, killing a fourth arsonist in the process, has pleaded guilty in the case.

Jeffrey Otto, 20, entered a guilty plea last week to charges of manslaughter and arson of an occupied structure. His friend and fellow Young Champions karate instructor, Josh Robinson, 28, died in the fire.

New Times covered this tragic saga of betrayal in our January 21 edition.

Otto was the last holdout of the three surviving arsonists to plead guilty. Court records show he'll be sentenced May 11.

Moniza Murillo, 20, was the first to 'fess up to the crime, and had agreed to testify against Otto if need be. Her own sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

It's unclear whether those two will receive any less time than the possible ringleader in the crime, 20-year-old Jonathan Antonucci, who had embezzled thousands of dollars from Young Champions and had started a rival karate instruction company.

Antonucci was sentenced last month to 14 years in prison by Maricopa Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer. The term was less than the 21-year maximum that victims and prosecutor Jon Wendell had called for, but it was higher than the typical sentence for the crimes.

Kreamer told Antonucci during the sentencing that he found it "disturbing" how kids who took karate classes from the arsonist had to later learn of the deadly crime.

Phoenix Fire Department investigator Marika McCue told New Times for our January article that Murillo and Otto apparently had nothing to gain from the crime, and simply joined in on the plan our of peer pressure.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.