Young Champions of America Arson Suspect Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter; Other Two Suspects Face Murder Rap


One of three suspects in a deadly arson fire that destroyed the headquarters of a youth activity firm has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and arson of an occupied structure.

Moniza Murillo, 20, (pictured right), had been facing first-degree murder charges along with two other suspects for the June 14 blaze that killed one of the arsonists. The fire burned the headquarters of Young Champions of America to the ground, and almost put the 57-year-old company's Arizona branch out of business.

Police believe Murillo and two of the suspects -- all of whom worked for Young Champions as karate instructors for kids' classes -- were trying to hide evidence of embezzlement. When 28-year-old Josh Robinson lighted the gasoline he'd poured in the building's second floor, the flash explosion consumed him in flames, killing him.  

In August, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office cut a deal with Murillo in which she'd plead guilty to the lesser charges.

Her October 1 sentencing has been delayed until December 3. Reginald Cooke, Murillo's attorney, declined comment for this post.

 In correspondence received by the court, friends and family of Murillo described her as an excellent student, a church-goer, and an athlete.

Jeffrey Otto and Jonathan Antonucci, the other two suspects, should probably be worried that she'll testify against them -- they've both pleaded not guilty and face trial in February. All three remain in Maricopa County jail.

Young Champions, meanwhile, was able to continue its classes this fall with help from parents and former students, owner Rory Hood told us previously. The company offers classes in karate, dance, cheerleading, and soccer, all taught at numerous schools around the Valley.




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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.