PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. - It is the one day during the week we tend to get more excited about than others. We look forward to it, often counting the hours. There’s even an anagram attached to it: TGIF.
Friday is universally celebrated by almost every person who holds a typical job. Eddie Collins hasn’t worked any job in more than four decades, but he is looking forward to Friday, March 10 more than most.
“I can’t wait to see Eddie wearing something besides orange,” said Katie Puzauskas.
Puzauskas has been Eddie Collins' attorney for almost a decade. To Puzauskas, Collins is a man with substance and heart. To the state of Arizona, he is inmate 30395.
“I think it’s an injustice,” said Puzauskas.
Collins was convicted of first-degree murder back in 1973. He has spent the past 44 years locked up.
“It’s not fair, it’s not fair,” said Puzauskas.
Attorneys with the AZ Justice Project, Puzauskas and Kindra Fleming are also looking forward to Friday.
“I keep using the word 'disbelief, maybe 'extraordinary' in terms of, this is really happening,” said Fleming.
Sometime Friday morning, Eddie Collins will leave the Arizona State Prison in Florence, and for the first time in 44 years he will no longer be an inmate.
“I think it will be overwhelming emotion, to the point no one can control what we are seeing,” said Fleming.
Collins was 21 years old when he, along with his 17-year-old brother Johnie went to buy drugs from a friend in bad part of Tucson. At some point during the deal, Johnie, pulled out a gun and it went off.
“It was clear the main perpetrator was Eddie’s brother,” said Puzauskas.
Johnie would take a plea from the Pima County Attorney’s Office and serve less than 10 years. Eddie decided to go to trial and was found guilty of first-degree murder.
“What I feel is justice is not this,” said Fleming.
Collins reached out to the AZ Justice Project in 2003 for help with his appeals. He would apply for clemency and met before the Clemency Board on three different occasions.
“I think the injustice was not having a parole hearing earlier on,” said Puzauskas.
During two of those hearings, the board unanimously voted to release Collins, but then Gov. Janet Napolitano declined to sign the release.
In 2014, the AZ Justice Project approached the Pima County Conviction Integrity Unit director.
“It was our last hope so to speak,” said Fleming.
After reviewing the case, Rick Unklesbay decided to make Collins eligible for parole. Up until then, Collins was only eligible for clemency.
The same board would meet again to decide Collin’s fate, but it no longer required a signature from the governor. With his attorneys, family and the victim’s widow supporting Collins, the board voted unanimously to release him.
“I was very hopeful that someday Eddie would get out,” said Puzauskas.
Collins will be transported Friday morning to Tucson, where he will be fitted with an electronic monitoring device, once that is done he is free to leave.
Members of the AZ Justice Project, including Puzauskas and Fleming, will be in Tucson along with Collins’ family and friends. It is unclear exactly what time on Friday Collins will be released but it will certainly be a celebration that has been a long time in coming.