Eddie Collins spent his last night in Florence at a party. Several friends he has made the past 44 years showed up to celebrate.
“It was great. We had a good time,” said Collins.
Every guest wore the same clothes, and no family was allowed.
You see, the party was at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. It was the last night Collins would spend behind bars after more than four decades.
“This is a miracle, it’s a miracle,” said Collins.
CONVICTED OF MURDER
Collins was convicted of first-degree murder back in 1973. He and his then-17-year-old brother Johnie went to buy drugs from an acquaintance.
“I feel guilty about that,” Eddie said. “The whole thing was bad.”
During the drug deal, Johnie pulled out a gun. He says it accidently went off.
The drug dealer died after being rushed to the hospital by his wife. Eddie Collins and his brother turned themselves in a day later and were charged with murder.
Johnie accepted a deal, pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Eddie, however, chose to go to trial. Per his current attorney, the jury asked the judge if they could consider a manslaughter conviction. The judge denied the request and a few hours later Collins was found guilty of first-degree murder.
“It was misery, it was hell,” said Collins.
Ever since then Collins has gone to sleep and woke up in prison.
“Prison was bad if you made it bad, or you could make it a good situation,“ said Collins.
During his 44 years behind bars, Collins says he “found God and religion” and dedicated his life to Jesus.
“If I did not go to prison, I may have never met my lord and savior,” said Collins.
He read scriptures from the Bible almost every night and prayed to get out one day. He also felt comfort in knowing whatever his destiny, it was the will of God.
“I believe in God, whatever he wants for me,” said Collins.
This past Friday, a crowd of about a dozen people gathered outside the Pima Reentry Center in Tucson. Mostly family and friends, there were people that haven’t seen each other in dozens of years.
Some family members have only seen Collins in prison, born a few years after his conviction. A few of the attorneys who helped to get Collins free were also outside the reentry center.
“I can’t believe it’s here. I can’t wait to see him in something besides orange,” said Katie Puzauskas.
As his family crowded the metal fence by the front door on an unusually warm day, Collins walked out around 11 a.m. last Friday morning.
“To see him walk out was amazing, it was amazing,” said his sister Ellar.
Carrying a box of his possessions he either made or collected in prison, Collins was greeted by hugs.
“Welcome home,” said one sister. “I’m just numb and excited.”
Collins took a moment to soak it all in, the reality of being free after 44 years is a lot to process.
“I feel like a human being, I feel overwhelmed,” said Collins. “Right now I feel great and blessed.”
After saying hello to his family and friends Collins proceeded to grab gifts from his box to pass out. A budding artist, Collins has made several pieces of art for family and friends through the years.
“Eddie is an amazing person,” said Ellar.
It was then time for pictures as Collins stood arm and arm with his sisters, nephews and nieces.
“This is a miracle,” said Collins.
Collins will live in Tucson with his sister and a few other relatives. He plans to join the church and maybe help part-time. As part of his parole, he must wear an electronic anklet and check in with a parole officer.
All that can wait at least for a couple days, Collins’ priority on this day was to get some “real food” and a fancy cup of coffee.
The family held a party for Collins on Saturday.
“I’m ready to get out and enjoy life a little bit,” said Collins.
© 2017 KPNX-TV