Man convicted in 1991 US Buddhist temple slayings
PHOENIX (AP) — A jury on Thursday returned guilty verdicts against a man charged in the 1991 killings of nine people, including six monks, at a suburban Phoenix Buddhist temple.
Johnathan A. Doody was 17 when he was accused of participating in the slayings at the Wat Promkunaram temple.
He was found guilty in 1993 and sentenced to 281 years in prison. But an appeals court threw out his conviction in 2011 after ruling that investigators improperly obtained his confession.
Doody’s second trial ended in October with a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a verdict. His third trial began Dec. 4.
Throughout, Doody has maintained his innocence.
Jurors deliberated for five full days before finding Doody guilty on Thursday of nine counts of first-degree murder and 11 armed robbery and burglary charges. The jury foreman says jurors debated the truthfulness of testimony from the man authorities said was his accomplice.
Sentencing is set for March 14. He faces multiple life sentences.
Doody’s father rested his head in his hands after the verdict was read, overcome with grief, his eyes welling with tears.
He believes in his son’s innocence and had hoped to take him home to start a new life.
“I’m just at a loss for words,” Brian Doody said while sitting in the courtroom gallery. “I just don’t understand.”
Barb Heller, a friend of some of the victims and a spokeswoman for the temple, said they are glad the case is finally over and that Doody will remain in prison.
“To us, it just proves everything we knew, and justice was served twice,” Heller said. “But it doesn’t bring back the victims.”
The verdict brings an end to a bizarre case that saw three trials over about 20 years on the same charges.
Allesandro “Alex” Garcia pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to life in prison in exchange for his testimony and a promise that prosecutors wouldn’t seek the death penalty.
During the retrials, Garcia described for jurors how the crime was Doody’s idea, aimed at stealing about $2,600 cash and valuables from the monks.
Garcia said he tried to persuade Doody not to kill the victims after the robbery, but Doody was determined to leave behind no witnesses.
Police found the stolen items at Garcia’s house, where Doody was staying at the time.
Doody’s brother and mother were members of the temple, but neither were there the night of the shootings.
Defense attorneys said Garcia was lying and only implicated Doody to avoid a death sentence, pointing out for jurors how he initially implicated four other men from Tucson who were later found to have had nothing to do with the crime.
Prosecutors argued both men are equally culpable and that Garcia had no reason to fabricate his story.
For jurors, it was not an easy decision as they debated Garcia’s truthfulness.
“That was a large part of our discussions, the veracity of his testimony” said 24-year-old jury foreman Victor Jackson. “There were parts of his story that didn’t seem necessarily consistent.”
But the totality of the evidence against Doody and the persuasive arguments by prosecutors convinced jurors of his guilt, Jackson added.
Defense attorney Maria Schaffer said they plan an appeal, while prosecutors lauded the jury for delivering justice.
“Today’s verdict confirms that the passage of time has not obscured the guilt of this defendant, nor has it diminished our commitment to seek justice for the nine innocent victims whose lives were senselessly taken,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said.
While Doody’s confession that he went to the temple with Garcia but was outside when the shootings occurred helped seal his fate during his first trial, prosecutors were barred from using it at his retrials, given the appeals court’s decision.
They instead relied largely on Garcia’s testimony.
Doody was spared the death penalty in his first trial.
Prosecutors couldn’t seek the death penalty in his retrials because of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits authorities from pursuing that punishment against defendants who were younger than 18 years old when the crime occurred.