TUCSON Ariz. - Eddie Collins spent his Friday the same way he spends most days. Collins said a prayer after waking up, he then had breakfast, did some reading and imagined what life is like outside of prison.
His day has pretty much been the same for the past 43 years.
“It feels bad that you miss out on everything in life,” said Collins, an inmate at the Florence State Prison.
Collins is serving time for first-degree murder.
“It was a sad situation, it was something I regret and still regret,” said Collins.
During a 15-minute phone interview Collins talked about the day his life changed forever. He was 21 years old, living in Tucson, Arizona.
“I didn’t want this to happen,” said Collins.
He was buying drugs with his 17-year-old brother Johnnie in a bad part of the city. The two brothers and the man they were getting the drugs from got into an altercation. That’s when Johnnie pulled out a gun.
“He (Eddie) tried to stop Johnnie,” said his sister Ellar B. Musgrove.
The man Johnnie shot would die a few hours later. The two brothers were on the run for a day before their mother drove them to the police station.
“This is a person’s life. Not only did you destroy your family, you destroyed another family,” said Musgrove.
Both Eddie and Johnnie Collins were charged with first-degree murder. The Pima County Attorney’s Office offered both brothers a plea deal.
The then 17-year-old Johnnie Collins accepted the deal and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He served 10 years in Prison.
Older brother Eddie was offered a deal that would mean 20 years in prison.
“He wouldn’t take the plea agreement and he has stood by that all these years,” said Musgrove.
At trial, the jury asked the judge if they could convict Collins on manslaughter. But the judge informed the jury it could not.
With first-degree murder or acquittal its only option, the jury convicted Collins. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“It was like a piece of the puzzle was missing. It tore us to pieces,” said Musgrove.
During the next four decades, Collins would miss countless birthday parties, several family weddings and the births of more than a dozen nieces and nephews.
“I think Eddie being locked up this entire time is cruel and unusual punishment,” said Musgrove.
In 2003, after 30 years in prison, Collins went before the Arizona Board of Clemency for the first time.
The five-member board voted unanimously to grant Collin’s clemency. The only thing standing in his way was a signature from then-Governor Janet Napolitano.
“I’m not sure why it wasn’t signed,” said Musgrove.
A second visit to the clemency board ended the same way, Collins was granted clemency, but once again Napolitano didn’t sign off.
By this time, Collins and his family figured he was never going to get out.
“If you’re going to kill him just do it and get it over with,” said one sister.
After a third failed attempt for clemency, Collin’s attorneys with the Arizona Justice Project sought assistance from the Pima County Attorney’s Office.
A change in the language of his initial sentence allowed Collins to become eligible for parole.
Once again, he went before a five-member panel to learn his fate. The board peppered the convicted felon with question after question about his mental health and anger concerns. They wanted to hear him assure them he would not endanger other people.
The hearing lasted more than two hours before a decision was rendered.
“Mr. Collins, congratulations. By a unanimous vote of the board, you are going home,” said the chairwoman.
Collins was on a video call from prison when he heard the decision.
“Thank you,” said Collins.
Just like that, after 43 years in prison, Collins learned he was going home.
Now 65 years old, he will have to spend another four months in prison to fulfill another charge. But then he is free to go.
“I feel like I had died and gone to heaven,” said Collins.
Eddie Collins understands how precious time is. He lost 43 years for a decision he made back in 1973, and now, after all those years, he will be able to see and hug his family outside of a prison.