TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) At 65-years-old, Eddie Collins feels like a much younger man.
"I'm like a kid, I'm in school right now," Collins said. "I'm learning."
Collins was recently released from prison after spending 44 years behind bars. He was convicted of first degree murder in 1973, but his lawyers fought for him because they believe his role in the crime didn't fit the life sentence.
The Arizona Justice Project and Pima County Conviction Integrity Unit have been involved in Collins' case for years.
In the summer of 1973, Collins' lawyers say he got caught up in a drug deal in Tucson with his brother Jonnie. A fight broke out and a man named Terry Young was shot and killed.
Katherine Puzauskas, with the Arizona Justice Project, says Collins' didn't know his brother had a gun, and neither of them wanted to kill Young. While Jonnie was the actual shooter, he took a plea deal and served ten years. Collins opted for a jury trial and was convicted.
Puzauskas explains that Collins was sentenced to life in prison based on an old criminal code. That code changed two months after Collins' offense, and would have made him eligible for parole after 25 years. The only option Collins had for release was to request clemency, which is difficult to obtain, said Puzauskas.
The case included many ups and downs, and went on for years, Puzauskas said. The case was taken to the Pima County Conviction Integrity Unit. A judge allowed the 1973 amendment to be applied to Collins' case, and he was eligible for parole.
Collins had to prove to the parole board he could live life as a law-abiding citizen, Puzauskas said, and was granted parole. Puzauskas says Collins is still under certain restrictions.
"I was so happy that he was finally reunited with his family," Puzauskas said. "That was the one thing he wanted so badly."
Now, Collins is enjoying living with his sisters in Tucson and learning about a world he hasn't seen since 1973. He says driving around town everything looks different -- the cars, the grocery stores, everything looks more modern.
"I passed by some places, I didn't even know where we were," Collins said. "But I know in due time I'll get used to it."
"I like to sit out on my sister's porch and I like to watch the sunrise in the morning, you know," Collins said.
Collins has a huge family, and they have been helping him slowly transition back to a normal life. If it wasn't for his family, Collins says he doesn't know what his frame of mind would be.
In the future Collins wants to go back to school and learn how to use computers. He just got his first cell phone, and is learning how to it. Collins wants to eventually write a book about his experiences.
"I feel good, you know, I'm enjoying life," Collins said.